After helping South Dakota deal financially with the COVID-19 pandemic, a Yankton state legislator is lending her experience at the national level.
District 18 Sen. Jean Hunhoff (R-Yankton), who co-chairs the Joint Appropriations Committee, has been invited to join the Healthy States National Task Force. The Council of State Governments (CSG) launched the two-year task force consisting of state leaders from all three branches of government.
Hunhoff was invited because of her knowledge and commitment to policy change and improvement, according to a news release. She also brings a background as a businesswoman and registered nurse.
Hunhoff said she appreciates the opportunity to represent South Dakota on a national platform.
“My background as a health care provider and my Legislative Joint Appropriations leadership role provide me with a foundation to bring forth South Dakota’s input for policy changes,” she said.
Hunhoff is no stranger to the Midwest and national CSG organizations, as she has attended their fellowship programs and has participated in other national work groups.
“As co-chair of Joint Appropriations and my serving on the committee over the past 15 years, I bring experience and knowledge about the fiscal health of South Dakota to the table,” she said.
With the upcoming “Healthy States” task force, she has been appointed to the Fiscal Health Subcommittee, one of the four available to participants.
“(My group) will focus on the fiscal status and operations of states,” she said. “(We’ll) work toward ensuring that state governments are financially prepared for the unexpected crises in the future.”
Hunhoff said she intends to work for improvements impacting the future , which still remains uncertain after a year of COVID-19.
The pandemic has brought unprecedented demands on government, she told the Press & Dakotan. Across the nation, the pandemic has resulted in business shutdowns and restrictions. Those changes, in turn, have affected the economy, employment and tax revenue.
At the same time, governments faced rising demands for services. The pandemic has created challenges across the board, from heath care services and schools to the courts and law enforcement.
“The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic created an abrupt disruption to state revenues,” she said. “(It) resulted in immediate implications for state leaders charged with oversight of fiscal, health, education and public safety systems.”
South Dakota has taken a different approach and remained more open for business and visitors. On the other hand, the state’s agricultural sector has dealt with its own challenges such as tariffs, trade wars and supply-chain disruptions.
A veteran lawmaker, Hunhoff has served on the Appropriations Committee for many years. Nearly every year, the Legislature has worked with a tight budget.
However, she said she has faced an unprecedented situation this year — the flood of federal stimulus dollars into the state. At one point, the state received $1.25 billion in CARES funds, and more assistance may be on the way.
As a result, state officials must decide how to spend the money while meeting federal restrictions that go with the funds, Hunhoff said.
She shared a number of concerns with the Press & Dakotan and during an American Legion Auxiliary program in Yankton. The challenge comes not only in meeting the current situation but also anticipating future revenues and needs.
First, the two chambers in Pierre didn’t agree during the session on whether the state would face an economic rise or downturn, she said. Her Senate colleagues took a more fiscally conservative approach.
“We had the debate between the House and Senate,” she said. “The House felt we were going to have a really good, successful year and wanted more dollars. But in the Senate, we didn’t think so and went the other way.”
The federal funding has cushioned the blow from falling state revenues, particularly sales taxes, Hunhoff said. “The federal dollars replaced the general dollars. That’s why you have one-time dollars replacing general funds that were lost,” she said.
The South Dakota economy has also been aided by stimulus checks and unemployment benefits, Hunhoff said. However, those funds also represent one-time money, she said.
“As of Dec. 30, 2021, those checks and money will be spent,” she said.
South Dakota faced a similar situation during the Great Recession of 2008-09, she said. “We had stimulus spending, and then the dollars fell through,” she added.
Then-Gov. Dennis Daugaard implement budget cuts for education and other budget items, Hunhoff said. Some areas have never fully recovered from those cuts, she added.
In the same way, South Dakota and other states need to remain cautious in planning for the short- and long-term future when the federal stimulus ends, Hunhoff said.
“We don’t know when we are reaching the cliff,” she said. “Is it going to be 2023 or 2024?”
As Joint Appropriations Committee co-chair, she saw state lawmakers seek federal funds for areas not always connected to the pandemic. In particular, she felt frustrated with legislators who came up to her and the committee at the last minute seeking stimulus or other funds for local projects.
“I told them there was no way I would even consider it,” she said. “We didn’t have any time for a committee hearing on it.”
Hunhoff will bring those insights to the Healthy States National Task Force.
“To assist states with recovery and rebuilding, the (task force) will address major public policy issues arising from the pandemic in 2021-22,” she said. “CSG will bring together 80 state officials and CSG associate sponsors to identify challenges faced during and as a consequence of this unprecedented crisis.”
COVID-19 has affected more than people’s health.
The national task force will assist states with a variety of well-being challenges, all intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, a news release said. The task force will develop resources and solutions to address fiscal, human, economic, workforce and civic health.
“It would be an understatement to say the COVID-19 health crisis has created new challenges,” said David Adkins, CSG executive director/CEO. “But in these unprecedented times, state leaders have been resilient and flexible and have renewed their commitment to work together.”
During its two-year life, the Healthy States National Task force will oversee research and analysis on selected policy issues. The research will identify bipartisan policy solutions and develop case studies.
The task force will provide recommendations for state elected and appointed officials. The government leaders can use those recommendations to rebuild state budgets and economies.
The Healthy States National Task Force members will dig deep to determine the best practices and will share state successes with their peers.
Hunhoff believes she holds unique insights that can benefit not only her own state but also the entire nation. She also looks forward to gaining from others on the task force.
“I want to share what has worked in South Dakota and learn from others around the country of their successes and opportunities to do things differently,” she said.
For more information on the Council of State Governments, visit online at csg.org.
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