INDIANAPOLIS — Just weeks after Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that the state would move to Stage 5 of reopening, recorded case numbers broke records, consistently reporting 1,000-plus new cases since Oct. 6.
Though the numbers put Holcomb in a tough position, the incumbent governor highlights the fiscal decisions made in his first term as the backbone of the state’s recovery.
In mid-September, the state revealed it had held onto half of its funding from the federal CARES Act, maintaining $1.3 billion of the $2.4 billion rewarded.
“We had to get some clarity … because this came together so fast,” Holcomb told CNHI newspapers Wednesday about the delay in spending.
Some states, Holcomb said, wasted their resources by spending the money too quickly. States must spend all the CARES Act money on COVID-related expenditures by the end of the calendar year.
The state earmarked $300 million for local governments to apply for aid to cover their own coronavirus-related expenses. Of the $31 million set aside for small businesses, just $1 million had been awarded by late September, according to the Indiana Economic Development Corp.
While the above funds have sluggishly received applications, the rental assistance program proved popular with nearly half of the $40 million funding allocated in the first few weeks and more applications being processed.
“As we get closer to the end of the year we’ll be at zero,” Holcomb said. “We will allocate the dollars that were given to us and address things from a state perspective where they help small businesses as well.”
Holcomb praised Indiana’s reserves, which State Auditor Tera Klutz said in late June had sustained the state through the initial surge of the pandemic – allowing the state to start the 2021 budget year with $1.4 billion in reserves.
State legislators had decided to spend some of that money on capital improvement projects but Holcomb paused that funding early in the pandemic.
“We have to effectively manage our way through this as long as it’s with us,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb called the state’s pre-pandemic reserves and AAA credit rating “prudent,” noting that the state had the ability to cut most state agency budgets by 15%.
Both pots of money served as a “bridge” for funding, Holcomb said.