As they look at the ongoing cost of COVID-19, Barton County officials are relieved to be getting the federal American Rescue Plan Act funding. The County Commission Monday morning approved spending part of that assistance to cover payroll expenses related to the pandemic.
Barton County received the first half of its $5,007,269 ($2,503,634.50) in ARPA funding on May 20, Grant Coordinator Sue Cooper said. States, counties and cities received State and Local Fiscal Recovery funds to respond to COVID, “as units of government have endured immense public health and economic needs created by the crisis,” she said.
Given the criteria, Cooper suggested $1.7 million be used to offset COVID-related expenses to include payroll, the 2020 single audit (an additional audit required due to the influx of federal COVID funding from the CARES Act) and legal expenses relative to the county counselor. This covers March 1 through Dec. 31.
“This funding’s primary uses are obviously to support public health expenditures, address negative impacts related and caused by the public health pandemic, replace public sector lost revenue and provide premium pay for central workers,” she said. It can also be used to invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure. After several public study sessions, commissioners and the county administration arrived at a list of uses.
Payroll a big need
Looming large among these uses was payroll, particularly in regards to public safety, public health, health care, human services, and similar employees, and the amount of time that they spend responding to COVID.
“There were time studies that were conducted by myself and the department heads to determine how much time their employees spend,” Cooper said. They realized how much was spent on the pandemic, and how much is still being used for it across multiple departments.
“Payroll assistance ensures that COVID related duties may continue,” she said. There is an estimated $1.7 million to be spent on COVID-related payroll and benefits between April 1, and Dec. 31.
In addition, there was the legal assistance provided by County Counselor Patrick Hoffman. This included information on the CARES Act that are about vaccinations and human resource issues and “everything which goes back to the public health pandemic.”
“A lot of these issues we weren’t aware of or there wasn’t a bright light shone on them until COVID,” she said. “Now we’re starting to address these issues.”
The actual time frame included under ARPA is March 2021, through Dec. 31, 2024. The money comes from the United States Department of the Treasury in two installments, the first was this spring and the second will be next spring.
The total spending approved by the commission Monday was a portion of the first half, Cooper said. The county is just trying to be prudent with the funds should the pandemic kick back up and the need for additional payroll assistance be needed more.
According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, on March 11, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 into law. The $1.9 trillion package is intended to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including the public health and economic impacts.
The legislation includes $350 billion for most every state and local government. Of that, $130 billion is for local governments split evenly among municipalities and counties.
Counties are divvying up $65 million with the amounts based on their percentage of the national population. This funding is coming directly from the federal Treasury Department.