by Jon Styf
Tennessee leadership approved $115.5 million more in federal spending on projects related to coronavirus recovery.
Tennessee’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group approved funding for several projects, including more than $51 million to purchase a new retirement management computer program, $32.2 million toward a new Food and Animal Sciences Center at Tennessee State University and $19.4 million to increase the child-care capacities of programs for the Department of Human Services.
The spending was part of $3.7 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act spending that the state will assign to projects in what it calls the Tennessee Resiliency Plan, spending federal funds to help the state recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
After this set of funding approvals, the state has $182.5 million of funding yet to assign.
“We have a tremendous responsibility to be good stewards of the funding that has come in our direction and the folks on this committee and the improvement we have received from people along the way, I believe, has created just … one of the best fiscally responsible plans,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.
The most heavily debated project amongst the recent approvals was the new building at Tennessee State, which Lieutenant Gov. Randy McNally questioned based upon the school’s history of building maintenance.
McNally wanted to make sure that the school had a long-term maintenance contract in place before the funding was given to the school. McNally specifically cited the current maintenance of the school’s 8-year-old biotechnology lab as a concern.
“I heard that it’s in terrible shape,” McNally said. “… it seems like we are building a new building because the existing one has not been maintained. I’ve got huge reservations in terms of what is going on with the maintenance of that building as well as the maintenance of buildings at TSU.”
Department of Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher said that the state has been working with TSU on deferred and ongoing maintenance issues at the school.
Tennessee State administrators said that the school is close to finalizing a professional maintenance contract for all of the university’s buildings to address those issues.
Tennessee State also received $5.1 million or lab equipment, program licensing and a virtual mapping system.
The treasury project included $4.15 million in infrastructure spending for networks, computers and devices and operational technology to help the departments remote capabilities with $2.7 million of that spending assigned to workstations and servers.
An additional $3.3 million will be spent on information systems upgrades while the largest part of the overall project is a new online system for the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System to replace a program called Concord that is currently used.
The child-care program received $31.6 million in separate federal funding from the Childcare Development Fund Award and $19.4 million from ARPA funding toward programs at YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs in the state.
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Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies.
Photo “Tennessee Capitol” by Peggy Anderson. CC BY-SA 4.0.