State seeks community input on investing federal funds to fix historic problems

State seeks community input on investing federal funds to fix historic problems
Gov. Steve Sisolak, U.S. Rep. Dina Titus and Nevada State Treasurer Zach Conine at an event on Tuesday, Aug. 2, to discuss the American Rescue Plan. (Photo: Michael Lyle)

by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
August 4, 2021

LAS VEGAS–Prior to the pandemic, Nevada landed on the bottom of just about every national ranking on education, affordable housing, mental health, social services and health care spending. 

The lack of investment in various systems over the years caught up to the state when the threat of Covid-19 caused a statewide shutdown and exacerbated long festering problems.

“I keep hearing everyone, and I’ve been guilty of this too, talk about how excited they are to finally get back to normal,” said Nevada State Treasurer Zach Conine speaking at the East Las Vegas Community Center Tuesday. 

Was Nevada’s “normal,” he continued, good enough? 

“Our state ranks dead last in public education,” he said. “We have communities right outside these doors that don’t have access to a doctor or groceries. We have moms and caregivers who want to work but are forced to stay at home because they can’t find or pay for child care. And we have neighborhoods that have historically been disenfranchised and underinvested in.”

But that could change. 

The American Rescue Plan Act, which was passed in March, is perhaps best known for providing direct economic impact payments, referred to as $1,400 stimulus checks, and the expanded child tax credit, which started being allocated in July. But the ARP is also bringing to Nevada $6.7 billion to be invested in a variety of issues, including housing, economic development, child care and infrastructure. 

Conine kicked off a 75-day “Nevada Recovers Listening Tour” on Tuesday to connect with communities all over Nevada to get ideas on how the state could spend the money. 

Gov. Steve Sisolak called the funding a “truly once in a lifetime opportunity for the state to not just spend but invest in our future and create a more resilient Nevada.”

“With the passing of the American Rescue Plan, we now have an unprecedented, and I mean unprecedented, opportunity in front of us,” he said. “We have billions of dollars in federal funding available to help us rebuild and recover our economy from Covid-19. This represents the largest investment that the federal government has ever made in the state of Nevada. Billions of dollars we can invest in a way that can benefit us all.”

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, who spoke alongside Sisolak and Conine Tuesday, said the investment is “a long time coming.”

“For many years, Nevada has neglected its infrastructure, it’s personnel, it’s computer system,” Titus said. “Now we have the opportunity to invest in those things so we not only get back to where we were but we build back better.”

ARP funds include $2.7 billion in state general aid and $1.04 billion for local aid as well as:

  • $134 million for infrastructure;
  • $338 million for housing; 
  • $232 milion for health care; 
  • $1.7 billion for K-12 education; 
  • $203 million for higher education; 
  • $23 million for food assistance; 
  • $388 million for family assistance; 
  • $345 for transportation; 
  • $92 million for economic development. 

“These dollars represent the single largest investment from the federal government in Nevada history, and we have a responsibility to make sure we do this right,” Conine said. “We need to make sure ideas for investing these dollars come directly from the community.”

The next few months, the state and local governments will have to decide how to spend these funds. 

One question that remains is how the state’s approach to spending the money differs or compliments the local government’s response. 

For the past month, Clark County has hosted a variety of community events to also hear ideas for how to spend the money. The City of North Las Vegas hosted similar events.

Each town hall the county conducted garnered suggestions on how it could invest in affordable housing, hard-hit communities, workforce training and resources for small businesses, and health and infrastructure needs.

Just prior to the listening tour launch, Conine spoke to the Clark County Commission about collaborative efforts in spending the ARP funds. 

“We know in the past what the state has done and what the county’s done,” Conine told the commissioners. “We think we can do better going forward.”

Conine is expected to have similar conversations with other municipalities in the next three months. 

Clark County has already put out requests for proposals and by Aug. 31 is planning to submit a report to the U.S. Department of the Treasury on how it will spend some of its allotted funds.

Conine said he had a more broad interpretation of the Treasury’s end-of-month deadline to submit a report and considered it to be more about showing “we are taking the time to make sure we are getting a lot of feedback before we direct funds.” 

“There is a desire to be as intentional as possible,” he added. “At the end of this, they want to see, ‘why did you make these decisions? What were you hoping was going to happen and then what happened?’ We are hoping this process gives us that outcome.”

Commissioner William McCurdy asked about how the county and state would manage duplicative requests for funding and what was being put in place to make sure there isn’t “double dipping.”

“We will have one database sorted by subject matter — K-12, higher education, food insecurity, housing instability, etc. — and that database will be public,” Conine said. “Our hope is before any check gets cut from anywhere we can touch base to make sure we’re not being duplicative.”

Another question also loomed at the county meeting about how to address the immediate needs versus fixing long-rooted issues within the community. 

“It’s so critical to us that there be room for this discussion about what we need to do today to try to stem the adverse effects of what is on our people now while we plan to reverse the trend of our failures,” said Commissioner Jim Gibson. “With these dollars, if we’re wise, maybe we can stop a lot of the bleeding and do something that will make a difference going forward.” 

Conine said there has to be a balance.

Because of the influx of funding, he added, there is an opportunity to both respond to the crisis at hand and invest in historic issues.

“Nevada is where we are because we’ve never fixed these systemic problems,” Conine said. “We’ve never made that investment. Each time a crisis happens, after 9/11, after the Great Recession, we find ourselves with a social safety net that is unable to bear the brunt of the damage. So we fight the fires and we go back to where we were and in the next crisis we run into the same place.”

During the kickoff event, Sisolak said while it’s “tempting to try to spend this money quickly and make headlines and get it out there, we have a responsibility to make sure this money is invested deliberately and intentionally so we can build a better lifestyle, a better Nevada, for not just us but generations to come.”

Due to safety concerns, the full details of the state’s listening tour haven’t been released yet. Last week, McCurdy hosted a similar town hall that was disrupted by an aggressive group of anti-mask Trump supporters. That event was cut short and is expected to be rescheduled.

Conine said he plans to go to every community from the east side and historic Westside to Elko and West Wendover.

“I’m sure there are communities a little frustrated with the government right now who won’t be too happy to see us,” he said. “That’s OK. Every Nevadan deserves to have their voice heard and included in this process.”

Even if the ideas they get from the listening tour aren’t able to be implemented, it is possible the state or localities can revisit those proposals down the road if other funds service.

Conine pointed to the federal infrastructure package being negotiated as another avenue for those ideas to be implemented. 

Nevada has until December 2024 to allocate funds from the American Rescue Plan and until Dec. 31, 2026 to spend those funds. 

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