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Wyoming to receive over $1 billion from COVID-19 relief package

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A crowd of a few hundred attend a rally at the Wyoming Capitol on Jan. 28 in opposition to Rep. Liz Cheney. The state will receive over $1 billion in aid soon, thanks to the stimulus bill passed by U.S. Congress this month.

Wyoming will receive over $1 billion in state aid soon, thanks to the latest stimulus package signed into law Thursday by President Joe Biden.

The federal government passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package along party lines this week, the third economic recovery act to pass Congress since the pandemic began last year.

Wyoming will soon see hefty returns under the sweeping act. In addition to the approximately $1 billion in state aid, the federal government will funnel an additional $174 million directly to local municipalities and counties in Wyoming, according to Renny MacKay, senior policy adviser to Gov. Mark Gordon. About $109 million will also be available in the form of grants for capital projects in the Equality State.

It will take about 60 days before the state receives the money. The U.S. Treasury Department still needs to issue guidance to the governor too.

This latest round of federal funding comes with a bit more flexibility, at least compared to past relief packages. For one, Wyoming will have more time to spend the approximately $1.36 billion. It has until the end of 2024, according to MacKay. The aid is also not restricted to only pandemic-related needs.

The governor’s office hopes to be strategic with how the state spends its money.

“We’re definitely putting a lot of effort into looking at both the short term and the long term to find out what opportunities exist with this money to find out how to have as significant an impact as possible,” MacKay said. “I think this would be a great opportunity to help Wyoming thrive into the future not just recovery.”

The giant bundle of aid also comes with billions of dollars specifically for public schools, health care, vaccine distribution, COVID-19 testing, extra unemployment benefits, housing assistance, anti-poverty measures and more.

Inside the COVID relief package passed by Congress: multiple measures aimed at providing targeted help for some of the lowest-earning Americans.According to the Tax Policy Center, the poorest one-fifth of Americans will see 20% higher incomes this year, thanks to $1,400 stimulus checks and an expanded child tax credit.That child tax credit was raised from the customary $2,000 per year per child to $3,000 per year for children aged 6-17, and $3,600 for children under 6. Plus, the credit will pay out on a monthly basis, meaning most American families with children may actually see monthly payments between $250 and $300. Advocates say those payments could cut the number of children living in poverty by nearly half.Also tucked into the bill: $39 billion in relief distributed to states to help struggling child care centers and money to fund the pensions for reportedly more than a million unionized retirees whose pensions are near collapse. Additionally, the bill contains expanded health insurance tax credits, meaning families wont pay more than 8.5% of their income on health care.It even contains the largest targeted funding ever for Indigenous people -- $31 billion -- and up to $5 billion for farmers of color, which some are dubbing a first batch of reparations. "This legislation is one of the most transformative and historic bills any of us will ever have the opportunity to support, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday, moments before the bill was passed. But for Republicans, the nearly $2 trillion bill was simply too expensive and too late, with some saying $1.9 trillion might have only been appropriate a year ago. The bill passed both houses without the vote of a single congressional Republican.

It’s not immediately clear what of the $1.36 billion Wyoming will receive from the American Rescue Package has been earmarked for schools. The federal plan sets nearly $123 billion aside for K-12 education in a pool of money called the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund, which has dispensed money to schools from earlier aid packages.

Natrona County expects to receive nearly $18 million from that account thanks to the congressional relief bill passed in December, according to a memo shared with the board of trustees in January. It already received $4 million in the first federal aid package.

The district has used the money for things like salaries, online learning curriculum and personal protective equipment. Incoming dollars could help stave off layoffs in the district if lawmakers choose to make large and swift cuts to education.

Lawmakers this month are discussing a $300 million deficit to education funding in the state as fossil fuels — Wyoming education’s primary funding source — decline.

The federal money may help pad losses as the state legislature considers broad cuts.

It’s unclear exactly how the state will allocate the money.

Wyoming spent nearly $187 million in CARES Act dollars for “education resilience,” in the past year, according to the state’s online checkbook.

A question to a Wyoming Department of Education spokesperson on how much the department anticipated would be set aside for schools from the most recent federal aid package was not immediately returned Friday.

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Energy and Natural Resources Reporter

Camille Erickson covers the state's energy industries. She received her master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Before moving to Casper in 2019, she reported on business and labor in Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington.

Health and education reporter

Morgan Hughes covers health and education in Wyoming. After growing up in rural Wisconsin, she graduated from Marquette University in 2018. She moved to Wyoming shortly after and covered education in Cheyenne before joining the Star-Tribune in May 2019.

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The resulting compromise, endorsed by a majority of members in both chambers, wound up looking pretty similar to the original bill presented to the House and Senate by the joint appropriations committee.

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