Wyandotte County will receive $37.3 million in CARES Act funding, Unified Government officials said on Monday night.
The Unified Government now is tasked with spending a lot of money in a very short time – a situation that some commissioners don’t think is easy.
“This isn’t going to be easy. Staff is going to be jumping through hoops, trying to figure out as much as they can,” Commissioner Mike Kane said at Monday night’s meeting.
Alan Howze, assistant UG administrator, told the UG’s Administration and Human Services Committee on Monday that the county will receive $32 million plus an additional $5.2 million from the impact fund, which provided extra funds for counties based on the number of COVID-19 cases and job losses. The $32 million is based on population.
Howze said guidance for the funds is still coming from the state. Johnson County and Sedgwick County were the only two counties in Kansas to receive funding directly from the federal government earlier, as their population was over 500,000, he said. Johnson County received $116 million directly from the CARES Act, while Sedgwick County, which includes the Wichita area, received $99.6 million. The other Kansas counties’ funding had to go through the state.
Kansas received $1.25 billion from the $2 trillion that Congress appropriated in the CARES Act. The federal funding comes through the state, where the SPARK task force set the amounts last week for county funds. The state’s task force met again on Monday, and its decisions must be approved by the State Finance Council.
The amounts for Kansas counties, more than $300 million, will be the first part of three allocations from the state, according to officials. The funds are to be used for COVID-19 related expenses or for recovery efforts, Howze said. The task force also is allocating funds for state agencies.
Howze said the cities in Wyandotte County – Kansas City, Kansas, Bonner Springs and Edwardsville – are eligible to receive part of the funds that Wyandotte County receives. The county would be in charge of distributing these funds. Also eligible are other taxing districts, and school districts and colleges. Health care providers also are listed.
Nonprofit organizations and businesses also can apply for funding under the rules of the CARES Act.
Howze explained that according to the rules set out in the federal legislation, the local governments cannot spend this funding for existing budget expenses, and they cannot replace lost revenue. It’s only for expenses due to COVID-19 and recovery efforts from March 1 through Dec. 30 of this year.
That means the $37.3 million can’t be used to make up the $23 million shortfall of the UG’s 2020 budget and the projected $18 million shortfall in 2021, according to Howze. The federal guidelines specifically stated that the funds cannot be used for expenses that were already in the local government’s budget as of March 27, he said. The funds also could not be used for existing budgeted expenses or capital construction, according to the guidelines.
The CARES Act funding can be used for direct COVID-19 fighting activities such as testing, contact tracing, personal protective equipment, as well as for emergency needs such as housing assistance, food insecurity, utilities, community health worker assistance, economic disruption affecting businesses, reducing COVID-19 risk factors, modifications and adaptation costs such as remote working technology and physical barriers, according to Howze.
So far, the UG has estimated it has $1.8 million in COVID-19 expenses, Howze said. The UG could decide to submit some of those expenses through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Mayor David Alvey has asked Commissioner Angela Markley to chair a subcommittee that will screen and review applications. Others on the subcommittee will be Commissioner Jane Philbrook and Commissioner Melissa Bynum. The subcommittee would make recommendations, according to Commissioner Markley. The UG staff working with the review would include Howze; Kathleen VonAchen, chief financial officer; Juiann Van Liew, Health Department director; and Maureen Mahoney, chief of staff at the mayor’s office.
Juliann Van Liew, UG Health Department director, said she was eager to see the county get additional funding to the Health Department as quickly as possible. The Health Department also is expected to receive $750,000 from the Metro Rapid Response Fund for the Health Department’s COVID-19 response.
Van Liew said the UG is hoping to launch an application on the website on Monday, June 29, for community partners, municipalities and others eligible. The application would be open for two weeks, until July 13, she said.
The subcommittee then would review applications and determine funding allocations, she said. The applications selected would have to be submitted to the state for approval in August before funds would be allocated, she said.
Eligible to make applications would be UG departments, other units of government within Wyandotte County; 501c3 nonprofits; and for-profit businesses, she said.
Howze said the subcommittee would start meeting soon, develop decision criteria, complete and launch the application next week and communicate with other units of government and potential applicants.
He said the funding would be used for direct COVID-19 fighting activities; reducing COVID-19 risk factors; emergency needs; economic disruption relief; and modifications and adaptation.
Commissioner Mike Kane asked the committee to take a deep look at the possibility that the money could be used for public safety, as well. He said he had heard that.
Commissioner Bynum said she had found it all confusing. COVID-19 has punched a $23 million hole in the UG’s operating budget, and at the same time, the UG will receive $37.5 million. But the federal funding can’t be used on the budget expenses.
“And it is not to repair the $23 million budget hole, primarily. It might be here and there,” Commissioner Bynum said. So far, the UG has identified $1.8 million in direct costs from mitigating COVID-19.
She added she appreciated Commissioner Kane’s comment to look further and see if, for example, the funding could be used for public safety purposes.
Other than that, the dollars will go out to the community to 501c3 nonprofit organizations, private businesses, other units of government and the UG’s departments, she said.
Commissioner Markley said the funds also may be used for recovery efforts, such as loans made to local businesses. It all has to relate to COVID-19, she said, but it may be a little broader than having to reimburse expenses of COVID-19.
Commissioner Kane said that whatever they don’t use goes back, and it has to be done in a timely manner.
“If we can prove it was a COVID deal, it will be paid for, and if we can’t, it will go back to other areas that need the money as well,” Commissioner Kane said.
The funding has to be shared with other municipalities, and it’s not as big as he thought it would be, he said. There could be more money later from the state, he said.
He said they would all be working to make sure the money is spent where it is supposed to be, and they as commissioners and staff need to be working to identify some of the areas.
Commissioner Markley said people always think it’s easy to spend money, but she described it as a “Herculean effort” with a relatively short timeline to allocate all the funds without violating all the guidelines, without leaving any dollars on the table. They will have to spend the money in the best way for the community in short order, as the timeline is pretty tight, she added.
During the SPARK task force meeting on Monday, the task force approved a sample resolution that will be sent to counties that outlined how the funds could be spent.
The SPARK task force also said they would retroactively send a resolution to Johnson and Sedgwick counties with restrictions on the spending of the money, including sharing the money with municipalities in their counties. While the two counties have already received their money, the SPARK task force still controls more federal funding that could, in theory, be sent to those two counties in the future.
The UG committee meetings from June 22 are online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBC4KeJv0lo.
The Administration and Human Services Committee agenda on Monday night, June 22, included more information about the funding, and also included a draft application for the program funding. The applications will be submitted online on June 29 and later. More information about the CARES Act funding is available on the agenda for the Administration and Human Services Committee agenda at https://wycokck.civicclerk.com/web/UserControls/DocPreview.aspx?p=1&aoid=1719.
The state’s SPARK Executive Committee meeting June 22 is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szlZMKQzOz0.