Millions of dollars in public funding are headed to Southwest Washington to assist with COVID-19 response and recovery — part of the latest round of the CARES Act aid package.
Clark County is set to receive $26,867,500, the largest sum granted to any Washington municipality in the most recent disbursement. This wave was designated specifically for cities and counties with populations of 500,000 or less; Clark County, with about 488,000 people, barely missed the cutoff for the initial round.
The $2.2 trillion CARES Act, or the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, was signed into law on March 27 and provided a $150 billion fund for direct aid to local governments. Municipalities with more than 500,000 people could access the funds directly from the Department of Treasury.
The rest of the money was granted to state governments, who were in turn tasked with distributing the funds to smaller cities and counties.
Individual cities within Clark County will also receive federal aid as part of the latest round of the package: Vancouver ($5,559,000), Camas ($772,700), Battle Ground ($645,600), Washougal ($495,000), Ridgefield ($266,850), La Center ($102,150), Yacolt ($54,150) and Woodland ($211,600, only partially within Clark County).
In total, the state of Washington will pay out nearly $297 million to its lower-population cities and counties.
How, exactly, the county and cities will use the money is still up in the air.
According to Mark Gassaway, Clark County’s finance director, the Department of Treasury mandates that all of the funds must go toward coronavirus response. Any activities already budgeted before the virus hit are exempt.
“I hope you’ll appreciate the effort it takes to prudently use nearly $27 million,” Gassaway wrote in an email Friday. “It is likely that the county will have to prioritize the use of the funding since it will not likely cover all the expenses that will be incurred responding to COVID-19.”
Gassaway provided some examples as to projects that could access the pot of money:
• boosting the information technology budget to support people working from home;
• taking steps to improve social distancing in the Clark County Jail;
• adding janitors to improve sanitation;
• buying employees more personal protective equipment;
• providing support to Clark County Public Health staff performing duties not covered by other grant programs, like contact-tracing.
“I will definitely know more in the upcoming weeks,” Gassaway wrote. “Spending this money has to be coordinated with other state and federal grant funding the county has received or will receive (Health Department, Community Services, Elections, Sheriff’s Office) so efforts aren’t duplicated and the county citizens receive the maximum benefit on these funds.”
Natasha Ramras, Vancouver’s chief financial officer, said the language guiding how the city can use the money “is a little confusing.”
“The city is looking for the crisp definition of eligible expenses,” Ramras wrote. “Our legal department is looking into it.”
The CARES Act additionally provides some funds through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, earmarked specifically for housing. The Vancouver Housing Authority was granted $339,875 through the program.
Most of that money will go toward the Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) program, covering coronavirus-related expenses, such as purchasing cleaning supplies and transporting families who need health care.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, helped secure the funds as a member of the House Appropriations Committee. She applauded the funding announcement in a media release Friday.
“Those who face difficult economic circumstances and who may have no shelter options other than public housing are being especially impacted by COVID-19, and we need to be there to help,” Herrera Beutler said.