Alabama lawmakers approve controversial plan to use $400 million in COVID-19 relief funds to build 2 new prisons

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey
In this July 29, 2020 file photo, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey speaks during a news conference in Montgomery, Alabama.
  • Alabama lawmakers are pushing forward on a controversial plan to use COVID-19 relief funds to build new prisons, the Associated Press reported.
  • Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill authorizing the use of $400 million from the American Rescue Plan to partially fund the new prisons.
  • Democrats have opposed the plan, arguing it's an improper use of the pandemic relief money.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Alabama lawmakers pushed forward Friday on a controversial plan to spend $400 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to build two new prisons in the state.

According to the Associated Press, lawmakers in the state approved a plan to construct two new prisons and renovate existing prison facilities for a total of $1.3 billion, with $400 million coming from federal funding provided to the state under President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan.

Six prison facilities would close under the new plan, according to the AP.

The $400 million is about 20% of the funding the state received under the ARP.

"This is a pivotal moment for the trajectory of our state's criminal justice system," GOP Gov. Kay Ivey said at an event signing the legislation, according to a report from The Associated Press.

Republicans who supported the legislation argued that the use of the funds was appropriate because of a provision of the $1.9 trillion plan that allowed states to allocate funds to supplement lost revenue and bolster state services, The Associated Press reported.

"This was the right thing for Alabama to do. We've got crumbling infrastructure. We've got people housed in places that are filthy. We've got individuals working in conditions that are unsafe," Republican State Sen. Greg Albritton said, per the AP.

Democrats, meanwhile, opposed the plan and argued it was an improper use of the ARP unds. US House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat representing New York, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen this week asking that she step in to prevent the ARP funds from being used to construct the prisons, the AP reported.

"I would be surprised if that was the intention of the funding," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday, according to the report.

"There are many needs here in the state of Alabama and there are many people who need these funds," Democratic State Rep. Juandalynn Givan said, according to the AP report. "But they saw an opportunity to take the Biden money, that $400 million, because it was just like liquid water flowing through their hands and say, 'OK, let's jump on it."

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