House rejects $80 million in federal stimulus money, grants already earmarked for Idaho

If Legislature doesn’t pass supplemental budget bill, $6 million grant for early childhood education will be gone

By: - May 3, 2021 4:30 am
Idaho House Chamber doors

Door to the House Chambers at the Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The Idaho House of Representatives has rejected about $80 million dollars in federal grants and COVID-19 stimulus relief money allocated for Idaho over the past two months.

The money would have gone for early childhood education, COVID-19 testing in schools and child care centers.

  • On March 2, House Bill 226, a supplemental budget bill that would have provided almost $6 million in federal grants for early childhood education failed 34-36 in the House.
  • On April 6, Senate Bill 1163, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Welfare Division budget failed 27-42 in the House. That budget included about $34 million in federal COVID Relief Act stimulus funds for child care centers, including wage enhancements.
  • On Tuesday, Senate Bill 1210, a supplemental budget bill that contained $40 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for COVID-19 testing in K-12 schools.

In each case, the money had already been approved or allocated to Idaho.

“This is my third session as budget director, and I can’t say I can readily recall a time in which we didn’t accept federal funds for a specific purpose until this year,” Division of Financial Management Administrator Alex Adams said during a telephone interview. 

Why did the House say no to spending Idaho’s share of federal money?

Conservative legislators who led the charge to kill each bill cited the amount of federal money involved, its one-time nature and the notion that it would increase the size of government, sometimes through new or temporary positions, in debate.

For instance, Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, opposed the $34 million for child care in the welfare budget.

“How many child care providers are we talking about, because that is a lot of money,” Moon asked during floor debate April 6. 

Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, supported the bill and said the money could have gone to loans to help child care providers stay in business. Troy told Moon and the rest of the Idaho House that several providers in her legislative district are struggling during the pandemic because many children are staying home.

Boise-area child care providers told the Idaho Capital Sun on Friday that they will close their doors on Monday to protest at the Capitol to call attention to the $34 million in child care funding that the Idaho Legislature has not approved.

On Tuesday, House conservatives led the effort to kill the bill that would have provided $40 for COVID-19 testing in schools. 

“Forty million to pay for lab tests? I have a problem with this in our schools,” Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard said in her floor debate.

She dismissed COVID-19 testing as more government and more data collection on our kids. 

Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, drives the school bus back home when the Legislature is not in session. During her floor debate Tuesday, she said giving schools $40 million in federal stimulus money for COVID testing in schools is “a very low priority as far as I am concerned.”


What happens to the millions of dollars Idaho legislators rejected?

In each case, what happens to the money depends on the program or funding source that supplied the money. But it isn’t like Gov. Brad Little will have to get on a plane for Washington, D.C., and hand the money back over to Congress. 

Two of the bills have been rewritten and still have a chance to pass, even at this late juncture of the session. 

  • The welfare budget that would provide $34 million for child care centers is back as House Bill 369.
  • The bill that would have provided $6 million for early childhood education is back as Senate Bill 1193. The rewritten bill passed the Senate by one vote April 12 and has not yet been taken up on the House floor.  

As for Senate Bill 1210, the bill with $40 million for COVID-19 testing for schools, Idaho hasn’t actually yet received the money for that. Instead, the funding was part of a draw down, meaning once Idaho used the money, the feds would have reimbursed Idaho.

“That means we wouldn’t draw it down,” Adams said. “It would be sitting at the U.S. Treasury for reallocation for any other purpose for Congress.”

Similarly, if Senate Bill 1193 does not pass, the state will not draw down the $6 million for early childhood education. Now, those grant funds are held by the federal government and earmarked for Idaho, State Board of Education spokesman Mike Keckler said. If the bill fails, Idaho’s money will be back in the U.S. Treasury. 

“We are not aware of a similar scenario happening before with federal education-related grants,” Keckler said in an email.

The stakes are high, as the Legislature quickly approaches the record for the longest session in state history. If the Legislature doesn’t pass a supplemental budget bill granting spending authority to accept the $6 million grant for early childhood, the money will be gone.

“There are no other options for utilizing the grant if the appropriation fails,” Keckler said. 

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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.