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Council Signs Off On State Use of U.S. Aid for Broadband, Beds

by Michael R. Wickline, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

August 28, 2021

The Arkansas Legislative Council on Friday authorized requests to spend federal American Rescue Plan funds, including on covid-19 matters and $120 million to finance grants to help pay for shovel-ready broadband projects across the state.

The council also authorized its co-chairmen to allow the use of up to $27 million more of these federal funds for other broadband grants after the technical reviews of the proposed projects are completed.

The council signed off on the state Department of Health’s request to using $90.8 million in American Rescue Plan funds — obtained through a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant — for coronavirus testing in public schools.

The Health Department’s request to use $18.1 million to help hospitals open 54 more intensive-care beds for covid-19 patients also won the council’s approval Friday.

In March, President Joe Biden signed into law the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act that is designed to help the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the pandemic.

The Legislative Council voted to grant the state Department of Commerce authority to use up to $120 million in the rescue funds for 34 proposed Arkansas Rural Connect broadband grants for projects that state officials have determined are “shovel ready.”

The largest proposed grants among the 34 are $10.7 million for Grant County and internet service provider Windstream; $10.4 million for northern Independent County and internet provider Hillbilly Wireless; $7.5 million for Faulkner County and Windstream; and $7 million for Sevier County and Windstream.

CostQuest Associates Inc., Deloitte Consulting LLP and Broadband Development Group LLC submitted proposals for the contract, according to Department of Transformation and Shared Services spokeswoman Alex Johnston.

Read the full article HERE.

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