While the COVID-19 relief application process started slowly in July, Greene County officials in the weeks since have picked up the pace to distribute $34.4 million in federal funds.
As of early September, roughly two-thirds of the total received by the county has been awarded to dozens of recipients. Grant money for 53 applications for Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds was approved Sept. 3 by the Greene County Commission, totaling over $2.6 million. Applications are under review on a rolling basis, said Lyle Foster, the county’s grants administrator.
“It was around what I was expecting,” he said of the roughly 400 completed applications received by the Aug. 10 deadline. “We anticipated a pretty robust demand for the funds.”
The COVID-19 relief funds are split among five categories: education, health care, nonprofits and community organizations, small businesses and taxpayer-supported entities. A 10% contingency is being held back to consider possible emergencies or other needs this fall, according to county officials.
The Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce was among recipients announced Sept. 3, receiving around $536,000 in the small businesses category. The county has distributed only $773,000 of the $6.5 million in the category thus far. Minorities in Business received the next highest funding total at $15,000.
Chamber President Matt Morrow said roughly $395,000 of the total would address pandemic-related economic impacts on the chamber. That includes canceled in-person events for the chamber membership and the impact of not being able to recruit new members during the pandemic.
Chamber membership has held flat at around 1,500 members since the start of the year, Morrow said.
“We budget for a certain level of new membership and we haven’t been able to go out and actually prospect,” he said. “We had budgeted this to be a growth year for us.”
He said the chamber staff is currently at 25, down from 30 budgeted this year. The organization planned to add a couple of the positions near the start of the year, but no hiring decisions were made amid uncertainty of the coronavirus.
The July workforce reduction was implemented after the chamber furloughed 12 employees in April, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. Morrow previously said most would return by the end of July.
The remaining $141,000 is for communication and technology upgrades. Morrow said chamber programs, events and meetings are frequently being held virtually and the office meeting rooms need to be upgraded to handle the audio and visual components.
“We just really weren’t set up for it,” he said. “We’re at a place now where we’ve benefitted greatly on the goodwill of others that had that equipment or facilities that we can beg, borrow or steal. This will allow us to invest in creating that kind of production capability in our building.”
Among recipients in the other four categories that received the most funding, along with the intent of the funds, are:
• Nonprofits and community organizations: Discovery Center of Springfield Inc., $380,535, emergency child care payroll and video streaming equipment; and Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri Inc., $306,321, Rancho Motel renovations for homeless housing, mortgage and utility assistance.
• Health care: Springfield-Greene County Health Department, $4 million, COVID-related expenses; CoxHealth, $1.9 million, front-line health expenditures; and Mercy Springfield Communities, $1.4 million, front-line health expenditures.
• Education: Springfield Public Schools, $1.1 million, COVID-related expenses; and Missouri State University, $845,164, COVID-19 testing.
• Taxpayer-supported entities: city of Springfield, $2.1 million, payroll and COVID-related expenses; and Greene County and Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management, $1.7 million, personal protective equipment.
Foster said funding decisions are being made weekly, noting all award recipients must use the funds by Dec. 30. All remaining funds will be returned to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
“We’d probably like to have most of our funding decisions made in the next 30 days,” he said. “We just want to give the recipients a chance to make sure the funds are spent.”
Foster said the county commission has approved roughly 95% of applications recommended by the CARES Act citizens advisory committee.
“If something hasn’t been approved, so far it’s really been they’re wanting more information,” he said of the commission. “They have been supporting the recommendations of the advisory council.”
In the education funding category, Willard Public Schools was approved Aug. 20 for over $344,000 in CARES Act funds.
Nearly $250,000 of the total is for technology investments, such as portable hotspots and data access service, said Superintendent Matt Teeter. The 400 hotspots cost around $108 each, while monthly data charges to access the equipment will run near $16,600 for the next 12 months.
The district is doing fully seated in-person instruction at this time, but Teeter said providing a digital learning option like last spring is an area of concern. The technology purchases will aid those who can’t access the internet without a hotspot.
“If you don’t have internet, we want to be in a position to provide you internet so that learning can continue,” he said. “What we want to be in the position for is if we went to any kind of other learning – like virtual, obviously – we need to make sure we have that covered.”
Teeter said the school district also purchased reusable face masks for every student and staff member in the district, totaling nearly 5,500 people. The CARES Act funds cover the $28,000 expense, as well as another $27,000 for water filing stations and roughly $42,000 for disinfecting and sanitizing supplies. He said because the district plans to deficit spend about $1 million this year from its $11 million reserves, the grant funds are a significant help.
“We’re very thankful that Greene County granted us the access to the grant,” he said. “This is a huge relief for us going forward.”
At the Springfield chamber, Morrow said the organization has been promoting the county’s CARES Act funds for months. He added the chamber remains careful during this time to not limit its services on COVID-related matters to just members.
“That’s how we’ve approached it from the very beginning of this pandemic, and will continue to do so, he said. “It was critically important to be able provide in a meaningful way the kinds of support that businesses need during and immediately following the pandemic. We anticipate a whole other set of needs as we step out of this.”
Of the funding categories, small business has had the least distributed thus far by the county, with less than $800,000 as of early September.
Foster said a new round of funding was expected to be announced by Sept. 11, but had not been approved by the commission prior to press time.
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