By Rep. RICK WEST
The Legislature convened in special session June 13 to begin passing legislation to appropriate some of the state’s $1.8 billion portion of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
By the time you read this column, the session will likely be adjourned to a call of the chair. But I wanted to share a bit of information on the first projects we considered. These six projects were advanced by the Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding, which held two working group meetings last week.
- Healthcare Workforce – $15 million to complete the new Northeastern State University School of Optometry, to be coupled with $18 million the university has already raised.
- Nursing Workforce – $8.8 million in projects addressing the nursing workforce shortage through the Career Technology Center system. Combined with previous ARPA allotments, a targeted investment of $64 million will address the nursing shortage and produce over 2,500 additional licensed and trained healthcare workers within the next five years.
- Nursing Workforce – $250,000 for the Health Workforce Training Commission to administer nursing workforce programs.
- Nonprofit Recovery Program – $25 million grant pool for eligible nonprofits, with priority given to nonprofits that applied for ARPA funds.
- Behavioral Health – $39.4 million to complete the Oklahoma Children’s Hospital Behavioral Health Center, addressing the critical need for pediatric behavioral health services in Oklahoma.
- Broadband – $500,000 to provide preliminary administrative support to open the State Broadband Office, to be reimbursed by administrative allowances in other federal funds once accessed.
In addition to these, ARPA projects approved during regular session included $75 million in water infrastructure grants, $50 million for higher education nursing programs, $4.5 million for medical professional training, $2 million for broadband mapping, $365,000 for a broadband technician training program, $7.5 million for pediatric emergency room behavioral health needs, and $634,000 for Career Tech nursing programs.
The joint committee’s working groups will continue to meet during the interim to make further recommendations for various projects. The Legislature will then convene again to consider those.
In the meantime, I’m passing along some interesting information I received last week. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. issued an executive order June 3 stating all Oklahoma state flags must be removed immediately from any land owned or leased by the Cherokee Nation. The only exception is with approval from administration or for temporary displays to honor dignitaries, the military or veterans. Hoskin cites as his authority the Constitution and laws of the Cherokee Nation. The only flags to be displayed on Cherokee property going forward are the flags of the United States and the Cherokee Nation.
Remember to listen to me on KPRV Radio at 7:30 a.m. every Thursday for my legislative update.
As always, if I can help you with anything, feel free to call my Capitol office at (405) 557-7413 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rick West serves District 3 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. His district includes part of LeFlore County.