Lawmakers give green light to millions in federal funding for free school lunches and mental health services – The Nevada Independent

A provisional legislature approved more than $75 million in federal aid money for free public meals at K-12 schools in Nevada on Tuesday, the latest in a batch of funding approvals released from Nearly 7 billion dollars Sent to Nevada through the US Federal Rescue Plan (ARP) last year.

The $171 million in funding approved by the state’s Interim Funding Committee (IFC) on Tuesday stems from the state’s public assistance portion of the resettlement plan, and also includes $20 million for crisis stabilization centers, or designated facilities intended to address mental health crises. without having to. Either for hospital treatment or for police intervention. Lawmakers have also earmarked funding from other parts of the ARP program dollars.

This move fulfills a promise made by Governor Steve Sisolak April To direct money to mental health initiatives, and follow the direction of its spending recommendations that were subsequently approved by the International Finance Corporation. Tuesday’s meeting was the second time the committee met to approve ARP funding recommendations, with The first such meeting It also happens in April.

Besides agreeing to fund free school lunches and crisis stabilization centers, lawmakers unanimously approved $200 million to provide competitive grants to scale up school programs aimed at addressing learning gaps caused by the pandemic; $10 million in emergency behavioral health funding; And $16 million is earmarked for additional appointments to the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) intended to help settle the remaining backlog of unemployment claims.

The money for crisis stabilization centers also comes on the heels of another $1 million federal investment in a three-digit mental health hotline, 988, aimed at providing an alternative to calling 911 in cases of mental health emergencies.

Given all approved expenditures, the state still has $1.1 billion remaining in uncommitted public ARP funds—about 41 percent of the state’s original quota—to set aside for specific uses by the end of 2024. The funds should be fully spent by the end of 2026.

The payments approved Tuesday were largely centered on the rapidly rising cost of living in Nevada that has put huge financial pressures on low-income families — as lawmakers focused on maximizing the financing’s long-term effects while balancing the needs of families facing rising prices. Gas, housing costs and other financial stresses.

Politically, top Democrats — including Sisolak and lawmakers — viewed the approvals as a critical economic relief, with Sisolak calling the money a “major step forward for Nevada families” in a statement released after Tuesday’s meeting.

The payments – while the latest in a long line of appropriations from the record amount of federal aid provided through the resettlement program – come in the middle of an election year when tough economic conditions are expected. Action against incumbent Democrats.

Party friction surrounding free lunches

A few Republican lawmakers have hesitated to fund free lunches for children who may not need them.

Although Assemblywoman Heidi Cassama (Republic of Las Vegas) said she believed in free lunches for all, she rejected the high costs, the use of ARP funding for parents who can afford lunches and the possibility that the money could replace the USDA funding if forgotten. Parents fill out the appropriate paperwork for a free lunch at a discount.

“We hope with the best of intentions that all the forms will be filled out so that we get compensation from the Ministry of Agriculture,” Casama said. “We know often that good intentions don’t always work.”

Jennifer Ott, Nevada State Department of Agriculture, noted that in response to the epidemicthe students Receive free lunches and breakfasts at school Funding will provide some stability for the children. She added that just because a family did not qualify for free lunch at a reduced price, it did not mean that they were not food insecure.

“[The funding] Allows the Department of Agriculture to offer an additional school year of free school meals to children in Nevada,” Ott said. “Allowing them, especially in these turbulent times, to have some certainty about nutrition and food in their lives.”

With more than $1 billion left to spend, lawmakers shouldn’t think twice about ensuring students have access to food, said association member Maggie Carlton (D-Las Vegas).

“Spending money to feed kids breakfast and lunch at school, so we don’t differentiate between haves and have-nots at school… is worth the spending,” Carlton said. “I know there are other issues in the state, but I think feeding the kids should be one of our top priorities.”

In the end, every member of the committee except Kasama voted to approve the funding allocation.

Questions remain about learning and losing money distribution

Although the committee unanimously approved $200 million in grants to fund K-12 school districts looking to address pandemic-related learning loss, some lawmakers have questioned whether the state Department of Education will be able to ensure the money reaches where it was intended.

State Superintendent John Ebert told the committee that the ARP funds will be distributed by the school district in accordance with current competitive grant guidelines, which require both the application process and ultimately the reimbursement and “surge” of programs already established to deal with learning loss caused by the pandemic.

These programs include a range of changes that school districts have made over the past two years, from increasing the length of the school day to allocating additional resources to teaching programs.

But Carleton lobbied Ebert and education officials several times, questioning whether school districts would be able to secure grant money for money already spent and then — through creative accounting — transfer federal funds to other districts.

Ebert said that any federal money sent to school districts must first be approved — or rejected — by the state Department of Education, and only then is the money reimbursed for approved programs.

Carlton didn’t seem satisfied with the response, telling Ebert “We know there are school districts out there that plan to use these dollars for various different things, so I just want to make sure that the dollars are supposed to go for learning loss.”