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News / Clark County News

Additional CARES Act funding much less than Clark County officials had hoped

State informs county that it will send $19.54 million

By Jack Heffernan, Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published: September 9, 2020, 6:14pm

Clark County is receiving an additional $19.54 million in CARES Act funding from the state, much less than what county officials had hoped.

On Aug. 31, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that counties, cities and local health agencies would receive an additional $190 million in funding. A few days later, Clark County officials learned that the state would be sending $9.77 million for general use to respond to COVID-19 and another $9.77 million specifically for Clark County Public Health.

Earlier this year, Clark County received $26.9 million from the CARES Act. The county has spent nearly half that money so far, and it recently released a plan for the rest.

The federal legislation sent direct aid to counties with populations of more than 500,000, narrowly excluding Clark County. The state was allowed to keep 55 percent of its funds and distribute 45 percent to smaller counties.

The Clark County Council sent a letter to Inslee in June that claimed the county was eligible for $88.3 million in reimbursement — more than three times the original amount. County officials argued that the state Department of Commerce and Office of Financial Management have not followed U.S. Department of Treasury guidelines.

OFM Director David Schumacher, in a July 22 letter, cited a vagueness in federal guidance, but wrote that Congress had intended the 45 percent of funds to cover all local governments in the state rather than shares proportionate to those of larger counties that received direct funding.

During a council time meeting Sept. 2, as details of the funding trickled in, the council discussed the draft of a follow-up letter to the governor.

“The intent of the CARES Act funding for local governments is to ensure local public health jurisdictions have rapid access to funds necessary to protect the public and limit the spread of the novel coronavirus,” the letter reads. “The Department of Commerce and OFM are acting in contravention of this intent, and are making it more difficult to access the funds at the time they are critically needed.”

The letter listed examples of how the county would spend the additional money, including $10 million to help school districts prepare for when students return to school buildings, $20 million to support small businesses and $15 million for public health expenses.

“We have some restaurants and small businesses that are teetering on the verge of, literally, just collapsing and going away,” Councilor Julie Olson said.

During the council time meeting, Councilor Gary Medvigy said the funding is “a step in the right direction, but it’s a baby step.”

Councilors expressed hope that additional money could go toward services for the homeless and rent stabilization as well.

“I think we have a really difficult situation coming down the pike, which is going to start before the end of the calendar year,” Councilor Temple Lentz said of residents losing their homes. “If there is more we can do, knowing that we are going to have more people on the street, I think that that would be good for us to look forward to that.”

The county also receives other CARES Act funding through grants.

On Wednesday, for instance, Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, announced more than $2.5 million in funding for local governments, including $1.17 million for Clark County. The funding will be allocated through Community Development Block Grants, which are meant to benefit low-to medium-income residents.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter