Scott County received $17.7 million in Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act funds on July 29.
The CARES Act was passed late March and provides over $2 trillion in federal economic relief to the United States and nearly $2.2 billion to the state of Minnesota. Funds were distributed to protect the American people from the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19, Scott County Board documents from a July 21 meeting said.
County officials learned they would be receiving the funds in early June and outlined which areas they plan to distribute funds to.
“The biggest chunk of this that's going out is $5.5 million that we've kind of identified as going out to the business community,” said Scott County Deputy Administrator Danny Lenz.
These funds will be distributed to smaller businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic including child care businesses, sole proprietorships, farmers and agricultural businesses and nonprofits, he said.
Another $2 million will go toward housing security and potentially provide rental and mortgage assistance as well as hotel vouchers for short-term stays for the homeless population, Lenz said.
Within this program the county will work to identify and prevent evictions, identify landlords that haven’t received payments, identify renter needs to meet gaps and identify mid-income homeowners that haven’t been harmed, but aren’t eligible for other funds, board documents state.
From the funding, $2.2 million will also be distributed to nonprofits, schools and food security programs.
“It could be providing personal protective equipment, if there's food purchases needed or refrigeration equipment, things to be able to allow them to continue that mission that they have,” Lenz said. “Also, potentially providing some support to school districts. They have some costs that are not reimbursed. One is related to daycare for social workers as well as distance learning costs that may not be covered for their students.”
Examples of food security and food distribution nonprofits noted in board documents include the Community Action Partnership of Scott Carver & Dakota Counties, Jordan and Belle Plaine Food Banks, Loaves and Fishes, Heart Ministries and more.
“The last area going out would be to try and do some efforts toward world broadband,” Lenz said.
Of the funds $1 million will go toward further developing rural broadband. The priority of the board would be programs that support distance learning, telework and telemedicine. Areas in need identified in board documents are New Market, Credit River, Cedar Lake, Helena and Blakeley.
The remaining roughly $7 million will be used to cover what the county has already spent in response to the pandemic thus far.
“There’s a number of different factors here but we have already incurred over $1.5 million dollars in costs that have been directly attributed to responses and that includes the purchase of PPE, overtime costs, staff having to work different shifts, all that sort of stuff and we expect those costs to continue to increase. That’s just the direct cost,” Lenz said.
Moving forward the county will invest in equipment such as laptops so employees can work remotely, online scheduling software for setting up appointments and other related systems, he said.
“Those types of efforts that allow us to continue to operate and serve the residents is where we're focusing those internal dollars on,” Lenz said.
The county will need a minimum of $5.4 million to cover the costs associated with teleworking needs moving forward. Leaving $1.6 million that could still be invested into the other areas if needed. If the funds aren’t needed, they could cover additional salary costs of the county that are eligible under the CARES Act, the documents state.
The county has until Dec. 1 to use the funds allocated. Any unused funds will be sent back to the state and if not spent by the state, funds will be returned to the federal government.
Lenz said he believes the county has “a really good plan to get this money out to residents quickly.”
The county has spent time ensuring the money received will be focused on businesses and residents that are in need who may not have been able to receive assistance though the existing programs that are available, he added.
“Business that may not have qualified for some reason that we're trying to support and make sure they're able to stay in business and also try to allow residents to stay in their homes for several reasons,” Lenz said. “One, we want residents to be able to stay in their home and not lose it at this time. Two, it kind of helps the overall broader economy if we have residents that can be safe and secure in their home, not have a lot of evictions, not have people be turned into a homeless population that overall is going to increase the burden on the county government and increase the burden on all of our residents in terms of taxes.”
Actions to begin distributing some of the CARES Act funding received will be considered by the Scott County Board at its Aug. 4 meeting.