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Counties mull disbursement of coronavirus relief funds

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County commissioners in the area are mulling the same question: What do we do with our CARES Act funding?

The state of Missouri received $2.3 billion in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding in April, of which nearly $521 million was disbursed to county governments on May 7, according to the state treasurer’s office website. The five counties in Springfield’s metropolitan statistical area – Greene, Christian, Polk, Dallas and Webster – were awarded a combined $55 million.

The counties have until Dec. 30 to disburse the money throughout the community before the funds have to be returned to the federal government. Several county officials have said an application process is likely the best route for determining where the funds should go.

On May 12, Greene County commissioners heard a proposal to disburse its $34.4 million through grants and approved a resolution of intent to hire a grants manager to oversee the application process.

The coronavirus relief funding may only be used to cover expenditures in response to the coronavirus, costs that were not accounted for in a state or government budget established before March 27 and other related expenses incurred from March 1 to Dec. 1, according to guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The funds cannot be used to replace revenue.

Eligible expenditures include COVID-19-related expenses of public hospitals, clinics, testing and emergency medical response, as well as communication of public health orders, acquisition and distribution of personal protective equipment, disinfection of public areas, the issuance of paid sick leave to public employees, and payroll expenses for public employees who responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. This may also include expenditures for grants to small businesses to reimburse the costs of business interruption caused by required closures, according to the federal guidance.

Noneligible expenditures include severance pay, reimbursement to donors for donated items and expenses that will be reimbursed under other federal programs.

“This is an enormous task to do appropriately,” Greene County Budget Officer Jeff Scott told county commissioners May 12. “We want to stress greatly … we need to know the problems of the community [and] the impact of COVID-19 on the community.”

Scott said the grant program, loosely structured by a group of county officials, would target all sectors of the community that provided resources or services in response to the pandemic, including medical and mental health, nonprofit, emergency response and law enforcement agencies.

The next day, Scott said an interview had been set up with a potential hire for the grants manager position. The salary for the contracted position can be covered by the CARES Act funds, Scott said, though the salary had not been determined by press time.

Once the position is filled, the grants manager would work with a small group to create an education and outreach plan, applications, a uniform application review process and finalize the process structure. The grants manager would present the program to a steering committee of community representatives. The three-member commission then would provide input and approve the program structure.

“The feedback from this group will be critical in making sure we have tailored a program flexible enough to address all needs of potential applicants fairly,” he said. “It is very important to us that a fair and transparent process is developed that effectively helps as many people suffering as possible.”

Scott said the challenge is making the greatest positive impact with the CARES Act funding while beating the clock.

“That sounds like a large amount of work, but the county is committed to completing it as quickly as possible,” he said.

In the commission meeting, Scott said his personal stretch goal is to start accepting applications in the coming weeks. In an email, Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon agreed with the planned timeline.

“The funds have to be spent by Dec. 30,” Scott said. “I believe there’s a lot of need in our community.

“I hope we can allocate the full amount of funds by October.”

Planning moves
Government officials in Webster, Dallas, Polk and Christian counties also have been juggling their next steps with the funding.

Paul Ipock, Webster County’s presiding commissioner, said the county has not yet distributed any of its $4.6 million.

“We’re looking for guidance on how the federal government wants it spent. We’re wanting to be cautious with it,” he said.

Ipock said the county also was looking to the Missouri Association of Counties and U.S. Department of the Treasury for guidance.

David Owen, communications specialist for the association, said it’s important for county officials to keep accurate accounts of where the funding is granted because the funds are expected to be audited.

In Dallas and Polk counties, officials are planning grant applications. Dallas County Presiding Commissioner Kevin Sharpe said the county doesn’t have a timeline yet to dish out its $1.9 million, but it likely would create a grant program for its local government agencies.

Polk County Presiding Commissioner Shannon Hancock declined to disclose further information of the plan to handle its $3.7 million received.

Todd Wiesehan, director of the resource management department for Christian County, said in an email committee members were appointed May 7 to determine how to disburse the county’s $10.4 million.

Wiesehan, also a member of the appointed committee, said the group was discussing what efforts in the community should be addressed by press time. He said the committee is likely to focus on entities that have not received federal funding through other CARES Act means, such as the Paycheck Protection Program and the Education Stabilization Fund. He said the group intends to have an application package prepared in the coming week.

“A first priority will be to provide reimbursement to cities and agencies for eligible expenditures they have already made related to the COVID-19 emergency,” he said.

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