Douglas County Commission to discuss process and priorities for allocating $24M in federal pandemic relief

photo by: Chris Conde

The Douglas County Courthouse is pictured in September 2018.

Douglas County leaders will soon begin discussing how they would like to distribute the nearly $24 million in federal pandemic relief that the county will receive over the next two years.

As part of its meeting Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission will review the process the county used to distribute previous allocations of federal pandemic relief from the CARES Act and provide county staff direction about how to proceed with the upcoming money from the American Rescue Plan Act. The county will receive $23.7 million in ARPA funds over the next two years.

As part of the meeting, commissioners will be asked about their priorities for how the funds should be spent. Policy considerations that county staff would like commissioners to discuss include eligibility criteria for funding, how much funding to make available for competitive grant programs, how much funding to make available for internal county programs, and the composition of the review committee that will review funding proposals.

County staff will also go over what type of spending is eligible. Eligible uses include response or mitigation efforts due to the public health or economic impacts of the coronavirus; providing premium pay to essential workers; making investments to improve infrastructure for drinking water, waste water and broadband; and paying to provide government services as long as those funds are to offset lost revenue, according to a county staff presentation. Examples of eligible spending include behavioral health care needs; enhancements of public health data systems; vaccine programs, testing and personal protective equipment; and efforts to address health disparities.

Douglas County received about $25 million in federal funds from the CARES Act in 2020, and the county put together a spending plan after reviewing funding proposals for dozens of programs, according to the presentation. The county used several categories to help prioritize the spending: municipal organizations, economic recovery, health and medical services, housing and human services and education. Kansas counties were then required to submit their spending plans to the state for approval.

Compared to the $400 million available to Kansas counties through the CARES Act, ARPA provides $565 million. ARPA also provides funding directly to both Douglas County and the City of Lawrence, as opposed to the county being the entity to distribute funding to the city. The cities of Eudora, Baldwin City and Lecompton also received their own distributions through the state of Kansas.

Currently, the county has $11.9 million in ARPA funds available for allocation and an additional $11.9M will be available in July of 2022. All the money must be “obligated” by the end of 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026. Funds can be obligated internally or through contracts, beneficiaries or grant programs. The presentation states that funding for ongoing or operating expenses should be handled with caution, as all obligations must be exhausted by 2026.

The County Commission will convene at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Residents can participate in the meeting in person, virtually or via phone, and more information about those options is available at douglascountyks.org/commission/meetings.

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