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Abbott Punts Decisions Over $16 Billion In Federal Pandemic Relief To Fall Special Session

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT

From Texas Standard:

Texas has $16 billion in federal pandemic relief money that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott now says will be divvied up by lawmakers when they return for a special redistricting session in the fall.

Bob Garrett, Austin bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News, tells Texas Standard that Abbott and other state lawmakers have been reluctant to do anything so far with the funds, which Congress approved for use months ago.

“They’re being very cautious about spending all this federal money,” he said.

That’s partly because they’ve been attempting to get around some of the restrictions the Biden administration put on the money, through waivers. The money can’t be used to cut state taxes or for state pensions, for example, which Garrett says Texas Republicans would support. But stalling hasn’t worked.

“They’re not getting the green light to ignore all of these rules and strings attached to the money,” he said.

Abbott has been able to stall, in part, because Texas is in a much better financial situation than anyone could have predicted a year ago. Garrett says that’s because pandemic shopping has kept sales tax revenue steady.

Still, there are many Texans still in need of assistance. To help, Texas recently released another $12 billion in federal funds for education, to help students recover from pandemic learning loss.

As for the $16 billion, Garrett expects the state to spend it on one-time expenses, and as slowly as possible.

“They’re going to spread it across a lot of programs,” he said.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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