Last month, we discussed a few aspects of the $900 billion COVID-19 response legislation passed by Congress in December of last year. The economic stimulus and COVID relief package, called the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), was passed along with the 2021 federal budget to form a 5,600-page spending bill totaling roughly $2.3 trillion. The CRRSA provided a new round of $600 direct payments to most adults and extended a variety of financial support programs from the first federal package (CARES Act) passed in March 2020.
In addition to sector-specific aids, the CARES Act allocated nearly $2 billion to Wisconsin to be spent mostly at the discretion of the governor. On February 2, the Department of Administration released a report indicating that the state had expended or obligated $1.81 billion of those funds. The CRRSA extended the deadline for states to spend or obligate any CARES Act funds from December 31, 2020 to December 31, 2021.
Unlike the CARES Act, the CRRSA did not feature direct aid to state and local governments, but it did include a variety of grants and aids for specific sectors and programs. On January 27, the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) released a memo to the Legislature detailing many of the grants and aids that the state has been awarded or is expected to receive.
Below we break down what Wisconsin is receiving from roughly $77 billion in education aids and $27 billion in transportation aids.
The CRRSA put nearly $82 billion into several education aid programs originally created by the CARES Act. The largest of these, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) program, was supplemented by nearly $55 billion by the CRRSA. According to the federal Department of Education (DOE), Wisconsin was awarded $686 million under the ESSER, $618 million of which must go to local education agencies such as public school boards. Under the CARES Act, Wisconsin received $175 million from a $13.2 billion total appropriation for the ESSER program.
The CRRSA also included a $21.1 billion supplement for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). The Association of Public & Land Grant Universities has estimated that Wisconsin’s public and private universities will receive grants from this fund totaling about $313 million. Institutions of higher education can use these funds for student financial aid, support of student activities, and for a variety of institutional costs.
Finally, DOE announced that Wisconsin was awarded nearly $100 million for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) program, a flexible block grant that can be distributed at the governor’s discretion. While the governor is generally free to distribute the grants to local education agencies, institutions of higher education, and other education-related entities, about $77 million of Wisconsin’s appropriation under the CRRSA must go towards Emergency Assistance to Non-Public Schools (EANS).
The CRRSA appropriated $27 billion for various transportation aid programs. That total included $14 billion for operating assistance to public transit agencies, apportioned largely at the discretion of the Secretary of Transportation. Wisconsin was awarded nearly $80 million under this appropriation. Under the apportionment for urbanized areas, Milwaukee and Madison were awarded about $75 million total, and $1.1 million for transportation in the area around Duluth, MN, went to Wisconsin specifically.
Wisconsin did not receive any funds for public transit in rural areas, while seven tribal reservations in Wisconsin will receive a total of $2.3 million for public transportation. Finally, four Wisconsin cities (Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, and Appleton) were awarded a total of $336,200 to support mobility for seniors and disabled individuals. Under the same mobility program, the governor will also be able to allocate nearly $290,000 to mid-sized cities (50,000 to 199,999 people) and another $260,000 for nonurban areas with less than 50,000 people.
Most of the remaining CRRSA transportation funds (almost $10 billion) went to the Surface Transportation Block Grant program, which provides flexible funds to states for a variety of projects including highways, bridges, harbors, transit, and pedestrian infrastructure. LFB estimates that Wisconsin will receive $188 million under this provision through the first quarter of 2024-25. The state Department of Transportation can use these funds to pay for additional highway work, or to replace lost revenue due to the pandemic for projects funded by segregated fund appropriations.
CRRSA also included $2 billion in grant money for airports, with various programs for airports of different sizes. LFB has estimated that Wisconsin airports will receive a total of $83.2 million in various grants under that provision. Under the CARES Act, the state received $83.2 million in airport grant funding and $2.9 million to support a share of airport improvement projects.
Finally, the CRRSA appropriated $1 billion for Amtrak, including $175 million for state-supported route payments, along with a limitation on any state paying Amtrak more than 80 percent of what it paid in federal fiscal year 2019. As of January 27, LFB stated that it was not clear how much of this funding would go to supplement Wisconsin’s portion of the Amtrak Hiawatha line from Milwaukee to Chicago. The CARES Act included $239 million to fund state-supported route payments; according to LFB, nearly $4 million of that money went to support Wisconsin’s service route payments for the Hiawatha line.