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State Finance Director Poole: ‘We do believe and are confident’ a portion of COVID relief funds would be eligible for prison construction

Friday, Gov. Kay Ivey made it official with her call of a special session of the legislature to deliver a long-awaited solution to deal with Alabama’s prison struggles.

During an appearance on this week’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” State Finance Director Bill Poole also signaled the Governor’s office was confident a portion of federal COVID relief money could be applied financing to new prison construction, which is widely believed will be a part of that solution.

However, Poole, who formerly served as the House of Representatives’ education budget chairman, warned state policymakers had to be cautious as to how they proceeded with spending federal COVID relief money.

“Federal money always comes with a variety of strings attached in compliance guidelines,” he explained. “So these are not funds that the state, like the general fund or other budgetary allocations, can simply allocate out and spend, and then move on. There are strict eligibility criteria, and there are compliance criteria. And then there’s backend reporting and auditing criteria. If those dollars are not spent in accordance with the guidelines, then the audits are going to catch that, and the feds are going to come back and seek repayment.”

“And when this is all said and done, this influx of federal money in Alabama and other states — there are going to be countless instances of the feds auditing and finding non-compliance,” Poole continued. “We want to make sure that in Alabama, we are in non-compliance and do not have to deal with that on the backside of this. So, we’re being careful. We want to get the dollars where they’re needed. But we also want to make sure we’re in compliance.”

Poole told host Don Dailey some of the details have not been forthcoming from the federal government but acknowledged the executive branch was “confident” American Relief Plan Act (ARPA) funds could be used for corrections.

“That is part of the discussion, as the ARPA, the American Relief Plan Act funds are beginning to be analyzed by states across the country and their uses,” Poole said. “That is a conversation that is underway. Treasury guidance out of D.C. continues to issue some of that guidance in different phases of maturity. There are some parts of the program we have no guidance on yet. Others, we have interim guidance on. So, trying to determine as Treasury determines what those rules are going to be has been challenging.”

“Now, we do believe and are confident that a portion of the ARPA funds as we call them are going to be eligible for prison construction if the legislature so chooses,” he added. “Clearly, there has been a lot of conversation to that effect.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.