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Local officials await recovery funding from Feds



MONROE, La. – Ouachita Parish could receive nearly $30 million in federal aid as part of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, though parish officials are unsure how the government might restrict the spending of those funds.

Last week, Biden signed the act, including an allocation of billions of dollars in coronavirus fiscal recovery funds for state and local governments. Louisiana is expected to receive as much as $5.2 billion, including more than $3 billion for state government.

The National Association of Counties, or NACO, has estimated Ouachita Parish stands to receive some $29 million, though the U.S. Department of the Treasury had not yet identified any official amounts as of Tuesday.

The cities of Monroe and West Monroe also are expected to benefit from an infusion of aid because of the legislation.

Like many state officials, local officials were not sure how they would spend the money, such as whether the aid must be spent only on expenditures related to the COVID-19 pandemic or whether the funds could be spent on items like the repair of roads and other public infrastructure.

Earlier this week, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration signaled its plans to direct much of its governmental aid to the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund.

In recent months, the state has accumulated millions of dollars in debt by taking out federal loans to shore up the trust fund at at a time when unemployment claims reached unprecedented numbers.

Police Jury President Shane Smiley said the parish would await guidance from the Treasury.

“The governing body will deliberate and make decisions based on the guidelines by the U.S. Treasury Department built into the bill and the needs of the entire parish, but it is premature to say how much the Police Jury or other governmental bodies in the state will receive and how the parish will use any allocation from the bill,” Smiley said. “The parish is glad to have the opportunity for recovery and will take the time for discussion among all jurors after President Biden has signed the legislation.”

The Treasury Department is expected to allocate the aid to local governments in two tranches, with 50 percent allocated this year and the remaining amount at least a year later. State and local governments are expecting the first payment by mid-May.

West Monroe Mayor Staci Mitchell said her administration had not yet received any “solid details” on the amount of money the city would receive or the guidelines for how to spend it.

“There’s all kinds of numbers thrown out there,” Mitchell said. “Until we know the guidance on how it’s allowed to be spent, we will just be thinking of different projects or how it can be used to improve things affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.”