FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear has been toting oversize checks around his state in recent weeks, handing them out to city and county officials for desperately needed water improvements.
The tiny city of Mortons Gap got $109,000 to bring running water to six families who do not have it. The people of Martin County, whose water has been too contaminated to drink since a coal slurry spill two decades ago, got $411,000. The checks bear Mr. Beshear’s signature, but the money comes from the federal government, part of a huge infusion of coronavirus relief aid that is helping to fuel record budget surpluses in Kentucky and many other states.
Therein lies a Washington controversy. The funds, which Congress approved at a moment when the pandemic was still raging, are allowed to be used for far broader purposes than combating the virus, including water projects like those in Kentucky. Most states will get another round of “fiscal recovery funds” — part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan — next month.
But in Washington, Mr. Biden is out of money to pay for the most basic means of protecting people during the pandemic — medications, vaccines, testing and reimbursement for care. Republicans have refused to sign off on new spending, citing the state recovery funds as an example of money that could be repurposed for urgent national priorities.
“These states are awash in money — everybody from Kentucky to California,” said Scott Jennings, a former aide to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. “People are like: ‘We’ve printed all this money; we’ve sent it out. These states have these massive surpluses, and now you need more?’”
Republicans were never fans of Mr. Biden’s rescue plan, which Democrats muscled through Congress without their support. Despite the many ways it is benefiting his state, Mr. McConnell once called it a “multitrillion-dollar, nontargeted Band-Aid” that would dump “another huge mountain of debt on our grandkids.”
On Capitol Hill on Thursday, a day after Mr. Biden made a public appeal to Congress for more money, Senate Republicans and Democrats were nearing a deal on a $10 billion emergency aid package — less than half of Mr. Biden’s initial request. But they had not resolved crucial differences over the size and how to pay for it. Republicans want to use unspent money already approved by Congress, but the parties have been unable to agree on which programs should be tapped.
Since the outset of the pandemic, the Trump …….