December 10, 2021

House passes bill to appropriate $504 million in federal relief funds

An amended version of a spending bill passed both the full House and the House Appropriations and Finance Committee Friday which, if passed by the state Senate and signed by the governor, will appropriate $504 million of the $1.1 billion provided by the American Rescue Plan Act into state relief funds, state Rep. Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces said.

The bill ultimately passed the House on a 65-1 vote, including changes made in a committee.

Small, a co-sponsor of HB 2, introduced the amendment to the HAFC meeting Friday morning. He said the $504 million is slightly less than half of the total funds the state is transferring into a contingency account of the general fund. The $504 million would be expected to be made available to the agencies and is intended, based on federal guidelines, to provide relief due to losses incurred from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Small said the amendment was based on feedback from committee members and others. HAFC originally heard the bill Tuesday.

Related: Committee discusses how to spend some of the $1.69 billion in federal aid

Small said the amendment increased funding for homeless and housing affordability overall by splitting up the $20 million appropriation so that $10 million would go to the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) and another $15 million would be appropriated for energy efficient affordable housing to the housing trust fund.

“This increases support for housing by the Legislature by $5 million,” Small said.

Other changes include an additional appropriation to the DFA of $50 million to construct and equip an acute care hospital in a county with fewer than 100,000 residents. This could go to any county in the state that fits the criteria but HAFC Chair, Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, said the legislature has heard specifically from Valencia County, which has been making that request.

The amendment also removed a restriction placed on the Department of Information and Technology to designate $100 million appropriation for alternative broadband technologies. Several representatives took issue with that language during the hearing on the bill on Tuesday, saying the legislature should let the agency experts decide how best to spend the money on expanding broadband.

Rep. Randall Crowder, R-Clovis, said there are $25 million worth of broadband projects ready that have been approved and are “sitting on a shelf” due to lack of funding. Crowder said he and other members of the legislative body have signed a letter to the new director of the department “to see if this money can immediately be put to use.”

“It hit me real strong, this opportunity to put money to work. We’ll cut off two to three month’s worth of time,” Crowder said.

Another appropriation made by the amendment is an additional $2 million for a teacher preparation affordability scholarship fund. A spokesperson for the Legislative Finance Council, David Abbey, said the Public Education Department has reported nearly 1,000 teacher vacancies across the state.

“Our teacher shortage is acute,” Small said during his presentation. “This responds to that so going into the holiday season, we want anybody who wants to become a teacher know that this body is taking action right away to support them in that.”

Abbey said the appropriation would help nearly 170 individuals seek certification to become a teacher.

Small said the amended version removes the $5 million appropriation to the Department of Game and Fish for acquisition of property and also removes $10 million appropriated for the water project fund. State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, said on Thursday during a Senate Finance Committee hearing that the Mortgage Finance Authority, which would have received the funds, was overfunded and wouldn’t be able to get the money out.

Related: Changes coming to appropriations bill after Senate Finance Committee hearing

Two other changes made by the amendment include striking language requiring a match for the outdoor recreation fund grant because a matching component already exists in statute and it clarified that funds going to the DFA without specifying which division of DFA would have to administer the money.

Rep. Candace Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, introduced a second amendment that would have appropriated a specific amount of money for a Department of Transportation road project. She said the road, running from Carlsbad to Jal, is heavily used but is disintegrating. 

That amendment was tabled and Lundstrom said the committee needs more information and will consider the road issue during the regular session.

The House heard discussion on the amended bill late Friday afternoon and passed it, as amended, by a vote of 65 to 1. Only state Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, voted against it.

Update: This story was updated to reflect that the House Appropriations and Finance Committee discussed the $100 million appropriation for the Dept. of Information and Technology, not $26 million and that the House chamber discussed and passed the bill.