Little says there is no issue using federal money to offset state holdbacks

Gov. Brad Little reviews documents with communications director Emily Callihan, left, and press secretary Marissa Morrison Hyer after Friday’s press conference. Photo by Clark Corbin / Idaho Education News.

Gov. Brad Little said there is no question that Idaho is allowed to use federal stimulus dollars to offset state budget holdbacks and create a grant program for families struggling to pay for online school.

Earlier this week, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin wrote a memo to her fellow members of the Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee (CFAC) saying that she’s never seen any proof that the plan was consistent with federal guidelines. McGeachin asked the committee to delay the vote, but then she skipped the meeting and the vote. The committee went ahead and approved Little’s $150 million proposal in McGeachin’s absence.

During a press conference Friday, Little said the Trump administration changed its guidance a couple of weeks ago to allow states to put more CARES Act funding toward schools.

Little made the same point when he announced the proposal the week before.

“At one point in time there was a question about it. Now it’s unequivocal. That’s the guidance from the Treasury,” Little said Friday.

Little also weighed in on higher education funding concerns. When asked if he would commit state reserve funds to help colleges and universities, Little declined to say yes or no.

He pointed out that colleges and universities are receiving $45.4 million in CARES Act funding. They started receiving that money in the spring as part of the state’s effort to pump $313 million in federal relief money into education.

The pandemic, budget cuts, funding holdbacks and uncertainties surrounding everything from sports to in-person instruction are hitting higher education hard. This week Boise State University President Marlene Tromp said cuts and job losses are inevitable. Little said the State Board of Education is working with colleges and universities.

“We’re seriously considering the challenges that higher education has had,” Little said. “I wouldn’t say ‘no’ categorially but there are frankly some other things we can do to work with them.

“All options are on the table to help higher education,” he added.

Little also announced Friday that Idaho will remain in the Stage 4 of the state’s four-stage reopening plan because COVID-19 hospitalization rates remain high.

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