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Carter Williams,, File

Utah has 4 weeks to spend more than $200 million in federal funds

By Graham Dudley, | Posted - Dec. 3, 2020 at 10:27 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has a short window to allocate millions in federal funding first appropriated by the coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress in March.

The state was allocated nearly $935 million and had spent only about $660 million of that total as of Nov. 27, according to budget documents provided to Phil Dean, interim executive director of the Governor's Office of Management and Budget, told KSL the state has about $215 million left to spend as of Wednesday.

The March coronavirus aid bill stipulated that relief money be spent by the end of the calendar year; now, Utah officials are working to move the funds to where they're needed and make sure they don't have to return money to the federal government.

Dean said allocating the money has been a welcome but unique challenge.

"It was quite the process," Dean said, "figuring out, with the Legislature, how do we allocate these funds to the best use?"

The Office of Management and Budget is just one agency tasked with administering the funds, along with the Utah Department of Health, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Workforce Services, the Governor's Office of Economic Development and more.

Dean said he anticipates that "most, if not all" of the GOMB's oversight funds will be spent by the end of the year. "And any remaining pieces will be pulled back and reallocated to other purposes," he said.

Dean said the GOMB is "in the process" of evaluating what organizations and causes might require additional, reallocated funding before the end of the year. Some examples of programs that "have spent most of their money and are asking for more," Dean said, are the "In Utah" campaign and residential rental assistance, which is listed as having spent more than $15 million of its $22 million allocation so far.

Some of the biggest discrepancies between money allocated and spent in the Nov. 27 report include about $17 million unspent for bulk orders of personal protective equipment and testing supplies; almost $5 million unspent for the University of Utah's "Utah Hero" random coronavirus testing program; and zero dollars of a $20 million allocation spent for "asymptomatic spreader testing" under the Department of Health.

Congress is currently debating over a second coronavirus relief bill, but Republican and Democratic lawmakers have yet to come together over the details. While a bipartisan group including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ben McAdams has thrown its support behind a $908 billion relief bill, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump back a smaller, $500 billion plan.

Dean said he worries some industries, like arts organizations and travel and tourism businesses, will "experience significant difficulties" if another aid bill isn't passed. "Even in those sectors, there has been improvement," he said. "It's not like it was back in April. But there are still very significant impacts there, from the pandemic."

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