by Jon Styf
Tennessee’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group met with state agency heads this week regarding funding requests related to the second half of $3.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act relief.
The group met with 17 departments over two days to hear funding requests for the $1.875 billion in what the committee is calling the Tennessee Resiliency Plan, which will cover local government technical support, health capital projects, public health and economic relief.
Wednesday’s meetings with 12 agencies, however, happened without public notice and were not broadcast publicly. A reporter for the Tennessean attended the meetings and wrote, “The department requested that a Tennessean reporter who attended the meeting not share information discussed there until the group reassembles in October.”
Media and the public were notified of Thursday’s meetings, and those five meetings were broadcast live by the Tennessee Department of Finance & Administration.
“I know everybody recognizes that these are really information meetings and back and forth, and there are no decisions coming out of these,” said Department of Finance & Administration Commissioner Butch Eley, who did not address why the first day’s meetings were not publicly announced or broadcast.
Eley said all committee members were at Thursday’s meetings and meetings on capital projects would occur “in the coming weeks” while the group has a regularly scheduled meeting in early October.
Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn presented several proposals, including $25 million for improvements of charter school facilities over three years. Those schools, Schwinn said, don’t have eligibility for local pandemic relief funds and serve a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students.
The largest two proposals were $250 million to continue work on secondary workforce pathways and middle school redesigns and for grants for school district incentives and family microgrants. The latter would continue work on programs initially funded through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund and could extend many of those programs for two years.
Schwinn said the proposals would have a long-term effect on education but would not create long-term recurring expenses. That includes $100 million in grants to families to spend with approved providers on everything from external tutoring, education support and enrichment for economically disadvantaged. The ESSER grants were related to literacy, but the new grant would be expanded to other subjects, such as math or science.
Another $50 million would go toward Tennessee’s Reading360 literacy program, and $100 million would go to the state’s Best of All program for resources in learning and supports for educators throughout the state.
Department of Health Deputy Commissioner Morgan McDonald told the group that while emergency room bed availability often is a COVID-19 focus, the larger limiting factor in the state is staffing for those patients.
That’s why the department requested $100 million in hospital staffing assistance for the state’s health care providers for at least five months.
The department’s proposal also included $113 million for recruiting and retaining health care providers, focusing on rural and at-risk areas, and $35 million for programs to promote homegrown health care professionals in rural areas.
The department also requested $177.8 million for a rural health care transformation study and implementation of the program, which would include payment model innovation. The department also hopes for nearly $92 million toward core public health services enhancements and $85 million toward community-drive assessments and implementation through county health departments.
The department’s final request was $21.6 million for a caregiver support initiative that included creating Alzheimer’s and dementia assessment clinics.
Other department-by-department requests:
Department of Transportation
• $90 million for waste and wastewater relocation with highway construction;
• $52.1 million for U.S. Route 411 expansion in Sevier County, connecting Interstate 40 and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park;
• $42 million for the expansion of U.S. 70 in Wilson County for state fair support;
• $28.6 million for improvements to 16 welcome centers and 10 of 19 rest areas;
• $13.6 million for failed stormwater drainage systems;
• $10.5 million for a small structures program (deteriorated stormwater drainage assets on state highway system);
• $8.8 million for enhanced beautification projects (interstate entrances and border crossings);
• $6.9 million for Coffee County-Bonnaroo New Brushy Brand Road improvements;
• $6 million for a multimodal path near Anderson County’s new Aspire Park in downtown Clinton.
Department of Agriculture
• $180.6 million for commercial agriculture and forestry supply chain enhancements;
• $73 million for University of Tennessee and Tennessee State agriculture research;
• $38.6 million for enhancing the extension’s role in food stability;
• $12.5 million for meat industry workforce development;
• $8.8 million for dairy producer support;
• $5.1 million for lab capability and administrative enhancements;
• $4.5 million for AgLaunch’s RAIN program;
• $3.3 million for an urban agricultural grant program;
• $3 million for stormwater infrastructure for flood mitigation;
• $3 million for repair and stabilization of eroding streambank;
• $200,000 for agricultural crime unit case file management.
Division of TennCare
$232,769,000 for Medicaid alternative pathways to independence
$226,500,000 for TennCare adult dental benefits
$75,000,000 for TennCare health starts initiative
$558,000 for behavior health initiatives
$2 million for post-public health emergency outreach
$5 million for rural immunization and vaccine supports for children
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
• $8 million for new case file system;
• $3.6 million for employee mental health services;
• $735,000 for cyber defense enhancements;
• $675,000 for digital evidence capacity;
• $505,000 for continuing a communication line with local law enforcement.
Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts
• $8.6 million for a Tennessee Court Information System upgrade;
• $1.4 million for court system recovery and case backlog support;
• $25,000 for hybrid education conferences.
Tennessee Housing Development Agency
• $90 million for rental affordable housing subsidy program.
Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions
• $1 million for enhanced information technology and cybersecurity.
Tennessee Department of Human Services
• $20.3 million for economic recovery opportunity pilot program;
• $2.7 million for pandemic electronic benefit transfer administrative support.
Tennessee Department of Children’s Services
• $6 million for human resources and hiring to fill vacancies;
• $4 million for safe rooms and critical responses to foster placements;
• $3.5 million for replacing IT and records systems with process enhancements;
• $3 million for inpatient rehab for uninsured and underinsured mothers;
• $250,000 for safe baby courts.
Tennessee Department of Correction
• $13 million for and electronic health records system;
• $800,000 for audio/visual infrastructure at the Debra K. Johnson Rehabilitation Center.
Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs
• $10 million for community violence intervention grant fund.
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Jon Styf is a contributor to The Center Square.