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Rep. Davis Doubts More Money Needed To Reopen Schools

Rodney Davis speaks
Carleigh Gray
Rodney Davis' 13th Congressional District includes parts of Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, Decatur, and Champaign-Urbana.

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package is set for a vote on the House floor at the end of the week. But U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis said more attention is needed on the money that’s already been approved—and whether it’s all been put to good use.

Davis, a Taylorville Republican, said his constituents have unanswered questions about where all the previous COVID relief has gone. He points to leftover Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds and the state’s mishandling of its unemployment insurance program as examples of state and federal government not properly spending down those dollars.

Does that mean he doesn’t think another relief package is necessary?

“I’m suggesting that we need to figure out where the dollars have gone before we unilaterally use a very partisan reconciliation process to throw out another $2 trillion,” Davis said on WGLT's Sound Ideas. “If you have hundreds of billions of dollars sitting in accounts in Washington, why in the world is the first thought out of Democrats, let’s just spend trillions more?”

The budget reconciliation process is what Republicans used to pass the 2017 tax cuts.

One of the biggest flashpoints in the debate over President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package is whether it's too generous. It's the third round of relief, and Republicans have questioned why all of it is needed, given that not all of the earlier relief funds have been spent.

This latest relief package includes another round of stimulus checks ($1,400 per person for people earning up to $75,000), expanded and extended federal unemployment benefits, and vaccines and related supplies, among many other provisions.

It also includes a proposed $130 billion in school money -- for things like ventilation systems, protective equipment and the hiring of more teachers.

Davis said more money isn’t necessary to reopen more schools.

“Why do we keep hearing from the Biden administration and Democrats in Washington that they need more money to reopen our schools? Where data has clearly shown that reopening our schools is safe,” he said. “We have $50 billion still sitting in Washington, as part of our $900 billion bipartisan package, signed into law by President Trump in December—where is that money going? Use that money, get our schools reopened, get our students back in a learning environment that will allow them to progress as they should.”

So, why does it look like there are piles of cash sitting around? Education officials from the local level all the way up to the U.S. Department of Education say it comes down to the quirks of public education finance. States reimburse school districts for qualified expenses, districts draw down funds over the course of the school year, and all of it takes time to get reported back into the federal tracking system.

After a House vote on the Biden package, the Senate is then expected to take up the legislation and attempt to modify it to ensure it can pass procedural hurdles while still satisfying all 50 Senate Democrats.

Davis’ 13th Congressional District includes parts of Bloomington-Normal, Springfield, Decatur, and Champaign-Urbana.

Listen to the full interview with Davis:

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.