Guest column: Pandemic assistance continues to be available

The Daily Ardmoreite
Sen. Frank Simpson

Under the American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA), Oklahoma will be receiving around $3.19 billion for state and local governments. Close to $1.9 billion will go directly to our state government to be used to respond to the public health emergency and negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Under federal guidelines, appropriate uses include providing funds for state agencies, nonprofits, industry, households, and public infrastructure.

While Governor Stitt has the final say on how these federal funds will be utilized, the Legislature thought it imperative to have input from our branch and other stakeholders. Therefore, the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding was created to help ensure these funds are used to build a strong and more diverse economy, enhance state services, and improve not only our state’s transportation infrastructure, but our digital one as well.

The committee will meet with members of the executive branch, state agencies, community organizations and the public to gather recommendations for projects. Members have been split into four subcommittees, including Economic Development and Workforce; Health and Human Services; Government Transformation and Collaboration; and Transportation, Infrastructure and Rural Development. These committees will vet the proposals and the top-rated priorities will be sent to the governor for his final consideration.

While I’m not on the committee, I’m following their work closely as how this money is spent will impact all Oklahomans. These are one-time funds, so it’s crucial that they are spent efficiently and on projects that will have the greatest impact on our state’s economy, workforce, and infrastructure.

This is a massive undertaking, but the committee has plenty of time to conduct their work. The federal funds don’t have to be allocated until December 2024 and expended until December 2026.

 If you’d like to follow along, the meetings are livestreamed on the Senate website at www.oksenate.gov. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 8 in Room 535 at the state Capitol at 1:30 p.m.

You may submit any comments or ideas for committee consideration at www.oklegislature.gov. All committee reports and additional information will be available on this website as well.

Unfortunately, we were hopeful that the pandemic would be under control by now, but it seems to be ramping up again, and still hurting many Oklahoma families. I’d like to share a few resources for those being negatively impacted.

Given that the U.S. Supreme Court ended the federal eviction moratorium, many are facing eviction. There are still millions of dollars in federal rental assistance available. Community Care Partners is disbursing Oklahoma’s allocated funds. You can apply at https://okcommunitycares.org/ beginning Oct. 15. Unfortunately, they’re backed up and working to process thousands of applications. This is a long process that takes about eight weeks to get qualified, have an Emergency Rental Assistance Agreement (ERAA) executed, and then have an application sent for payment. Check their website and social media for other options and resources.

While waiting for the portal to reopen, it’s recommended that those facing eviction talk to landlords and utility companies if you’ve already applied for rental assistance and continue making good-faith payments. Should you receive an eviction summons, you must show up for court on the set date. You can also contact Legal Aid, which helps provide legal services to low-income clients.

Those looking for employment may be eligible to receive childcare assistance through the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ (OKDHS) 60 days of subsidized childcare. To see if you qualify, visit https://okdhslive.org.

To get assistance with food, utilities, or other necessities, call 211 or text 211OK to 898211.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call, or email me at (405) 521-5607 or Frank.Simpson@oksenate.gov.