South Dakota lawmakers finalize plans for coronavirus funds

SIOUX FALLS (AP) – South Dakota lawmakers on Wednesday worked to finalize their plan on how to spend more than $1 billion in federal coronavirus relief funds ahead of a special legislative session tentatively scheduled for next week.

Lawmakers have been holding public input sessions in recent weeks as they discuss the best way to address the health and economic crises caused by the pandemic. But as the state looks to spend the bulk of the $1.25 billion in federal funds it received in the spring, Gov. Kristi Noem and some lawmakers have tussled over spending the money.

Noem’s office has maintained that the governor has the authority to spend federal funds without a vote from the Legislature. Her office has described the special session as a way for lawmakers to offer input into how the money is used.

Even as legislatures looked to finalize their plans, some were not certain whether the special session would happen. Noem has announced that she intends to call the Legislature to convene on Monday, but has yet to issue a proclamation to officially schedule it. 

Noem’s spokesman Ian Fury said the governor is still planning for the session to happen on Monday.

Speaker Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, said he is also working under that assumption, but he expected that she would have already issued the official proclamation.

The Republican governor has already laid out grant programs that would make $400 million available to businesses affected by the pandemic and $100 million for health care providers that provide services through Medicaid and other federal and state programs. She has also allocated another $495 million, including for local governments, unemployment benefits and salaries for health officials and law enforcement officers.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations, which shapes the state’s budget, worked to finalize their adjustments to the governor’s business grant plan on Wednesday. It also considered plans to send over $100 million to programs like longterm care facilities, nonprofit organizations and rent assistance.

Haugaard said the public input sessions have given lawmakers a chance to survey the impact of the pandemic and make sure the money goes to where it’s needed the most.

“We hope that we find where the real hurt is across the state,” he said.

Noem has cast her handling of the coronavirus as a boon for the state’s economy as she eschewed lockdowns and encouraged tourism.

“We’re in tremendous shape in our fight against this virus,” she said in a statement announcing the special session.

But Haugaard pointed out that businesses have still had to close after facing local restrictions and downturns in business. House legislators, led by Haugaard, have pushed for the funds to be used quicker, as well as more legislative control on how the money is used. In August, he sent a letter, signed by 45 other House lawmakers, to the governor calling for the special session.

The $1.25 billion that the state received is a record-breaking influx of federal cash, equivalent to roughly a quarter of the state’s entire budget.


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