ABQ to benefit from new round of federal benefits - Albuquerque Journal

ABQ to benefit from new round of federal benefits

(Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal file)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

An already traumatic 2020 could have been even bleaker for Albuquerque if not for the federal CARES Act, a coronavirus relief bill that delivered $150 million to the city’s coffers last spring.

Mayor Tim Keller said the aid prevented hundreds of layoffs and allowed the city to continue providing critical services, including senior meals and emergency shelter. It “literally saved Albuquerque city government,” he said.

Now, just months after the city finished spending that allocation, another is coming. Albuquerque city government is slated to receive about $114 million more through the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

And this batch comes with fewer restrictions. The federal government had limited how cities could spend CARES money, specifically prohibiting them from simply filling each budget hole created by waning tax revenue. But Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said Tuesday that local governments have more leeway with the new money, including basic revenue replacement.

“The city itself can then manage where they have the most needs. … It’s dramatically more flexible,” said Heinrich, who joined Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and Keller during a media briefing about the bill.

In Albuquerque, basic city services run primarily on gross receipts tax revenue, which has declined. At the end of December – the midpoint of the current fiscal year – GRT for the city’s general fund was down about 5%, or nearly $10 million, from the year before, according to City Economist Christine Boerner. Other city revenue sources also have slipped during the pandemic, including fees for services and ticket sales at such venues as the ABQ BioPark.

Keller said the city’s revenue picture is brightening, but that the new money would help address the remaining gaps and keep the city going without major cuts. He said city leaders will decide where to spend the new federal relief money as part of the annual budget planning process already underway for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“We’ll be able to answer all of those questions for you in the upcoming weeks as part of the budget process,” Keller said.

The city is hardly the lone beneficiary of the relief bill. Bernalillo County is slated to get about $132 million, and there are a number of other provisions to help families – such as stimulus payments and child tax credits – and businesses.

The senators on Tuesday touted the $28.6 billion grant program for restaurants, which Luján said has $5 billion specifically for restaurants with under $500,000 in annual gross receipts.

“It’s really going to be focused on the kinds of restaurants that are so ubiquitous and so much a part of the fabric in our state,” Heinrich said, noting that the U.S. Small Business Administration is currently developing the program’s application guidelines.

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