Nevada lawmakers on Tuesday approved more than $8 million in funds to help the state handle medical and economic threats posed by the new coronavirus.
The Nevada Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee, which met by videoconference, unanimously approved $6.25 million in emergency relief funds that will go toward helping the state purchase and distribute personal protection equipment for health care workers and COVID-19 testing kits.
The committee also approved $2 million in settlement funds that will go toward helping Nevadans who can’t pay their rent avoid eviction amid the unprecedented economic fallout caused by COVID-19.
But the proposal drew criticism from some Republican lawmakers who questioned where the money was going and expressed concern about distributing that money when the state is facing significant budget cuts itself.
With hundreds of thousands of Nevadans out of work due to the shutdown of casinos and nonessential businesses last month, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a moratorium on evictions in Nevada, meaning people cannot be kicked out of their homes or apartments for missing their rent payments.
But the directive doesn’t absolve those people from paying that missed rent, and the state is likely to see a spike in evictions once the governor’s directive is eventually lifted, said Jessica Adair, chief of staff to Attorney General Aaron Ford.
The $2 million will come from funds Nevada received as part of a 2018 settlement with Wells Fargo, and goes to the United Way of Southern Nevada and United Way of Northern Nevada and the Sierra for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program.
The money could be used to help pay for back rent for struggling families or for a security deposit and first month’s rent through the United Way, Adair said.
“I think that this funding will relieve a lot of anxiety that people are feeling right now,” Adair said.
Four Republicans voted against the rental assistance money — Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, Assembly Republican Leader Robin Titus, R-Wellington, and Assemblymen Jim Wheeler, R-Gardnerville, and Al Kramer, R-Carson City.
Kieckhefer noted the potential $680 million in state agency budget cuts that Sisolak told state agency directors last week to start preparing for in the wake of the economic standstill created by the coronavirus.
“Now is not a good time to be using these state resources for something that is not a state program,” Kieckhefer said.
Wheeler said he was concerned that the United Way’s Southern Nevada branch was receiving 80 percent of the funds. Wheeler said Southern Nevada should get closer to two-thirds, or around 67 percent, of the funding, which he said was closer to the population distribution of the state.
Clark County’s roughly 2.2 million residents make up about 74 percent of the state’s total population, according to the latest population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Republican Sen. Pete Goicoechea said he supported the move because the United Way will be able to get the money to the people in need faster than the state.
“There are going to be some places we won’t be able to access,” Goicoechea said. “I believe they can get them to the ground in the next 60 days that we might be missing otherwise.”
Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, echoed Goicoechea’s comments about the need to get the money into the hands of Nevadans sooner rather than later.
“We are in the pandemic right now; this is ground zero,” Frierson said. “I’m saddened that we could possibly reduce this conversation to something about regions and balance when it’s really about where the problems are and getting the money there as fast as we possibly can.”