PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Last month, the commissioner from Governor Kristi Noem’s budget office presented state lawmakers with an optimistic report that showed nearly all $1.25 billion of coronavirus relief funds that Congress allotted South Dakota would be committed before the December 30 deadline. On Monday, the latest report from Liza Clark estimated that $106 million would go unspent unless state government made the leftover funding more available.
Clark told the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee that her office planned to stop taking applications for the first round Tuesday, December 8, but would start a second round later this month covering the months of September through November.
The December 30 deadline no longer is rock-solid, either. While Clark spoke to legislators, her office tweeted that the federal government had softened its interpretation: “The Treasury Dept. added guidance which allows a 90-day window for clean-up payments on the CRF. For instance, as local governments find out what their final COVID payroll expenses are at the end of Dec, we will be making those payments in January for expenses incurred in Dec.“
She said the governor’s K-12 Connect program that had $8 million earmarked to get Internet service to K-12 students’ homes had now been revised down to about $500,000. What caused “the huge difference?” asked Representative Randy Gross, an Elkton Republican. Replied Clark, “They just haven’t applied for the program.”
The Legislature in an October special session recommended how the governor should make available hundreds of millions of dollars. One area was $9 million for housing assistance; numbers on Monday showed less than $3 million had been requested so far.
Several legislators said they’ve heard from some constituents asking about the status of their requests. Clark’s advice was that those people should be patient. She said applicants who have been denied should send emails seeking further information if they weren’t satisfied after calling the helpline.
Noem, a Republican, will deliver her budget recommendations for the coming fiscal year that starts July 1 on Tuesday at 1 p.m. CT to a joint assembly of representatives and senators in the House chamber.
Noem closed state government offices for non-essential employees at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and told them to work remotely when possible, but since then urged that students go to school this fall, refused to impose any business restrictions and hasn’t called for masks. South Dakota has fared better economically than she or others first expected but in recent weeks has led the nation in coronavirus-related deaths as a percentage of population.
Noem also used the pandemic to raise her political profile. She campaigned in many states for the re-election of President Donald Trump, hosted him at Mount Rushmore for a July 3 fireworks show, carried a US flag as she rode a horse into the arena Friday at the National Finals Rodeo in Texas, and answered reporters’ questions in Georgia on Sunday for the campaign of U.S. Senator Kelly Loeffler.