Douglas County expects to receive $21-24 million of federal funding for coronavirus relief

photo by: Jackson Barton/Journal-World File Photo

The Douglas County Courthouse and downtown Lawrence are pictured in an aerial photo Saturday, July 13, 2019.

Douglas County will soon see an injection of federal cash to help address health issues and an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

County Administrator Sarah Plinsky recently told the County Commission that the county would begin receiving between $21-$24 million of federal funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as CARES. But full details on how much funding and how it can be used are not yet available, she said.

“There’s a lot we don’t know yet about this,” Plinsky said during the County Commission’s June 10 meeting. “We are dying to get additional information on this, and it just has not all been released by the state.”

Between $350 million and $400 million of the law’s funding has been allocated to Kansas counties, Plinsky said. The state government is disbursing that funding to 103 of the state’s 105 county governments through its economic recovery task force. Johnson County and Sedgwick County, the two largest counties by population, received their funding directly from the federal government.

The amount of funding Douglas County will receive will also be based on population, providing $194 per county resident. However, it’s unclear which population count will be used, Plinsky said.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Douglas County had a population of about 110,800 in 2010, which would provide the county with close to $21.5 million. But the bureau estimates the county’s population was 122,200 in 2019, which would provide about $23.7 million.

“By any count, the amount of funds that will be distributed are substantial,” Plinsky said.

The funding is expected to be given to the county through a 50-50 plan. Plinsky said the county would receive the first half of the funds up front, with the purpose of spending it “rapidly” into the local economy. The second half of the funds may require that the county develop a project plan for its use, which would then need state approval.

Plinsky said the funding was meant to be used by the end of the calendar year. If it is not used by then, the state has requested the money be returned to be reallocated for later coronavirus relief funding, she said.

But how the funds can be used is also not yet clear. Plinsky said the guidance from the state so far just says the funding needs to be used to “strengthen the health of our communities.” County Commissioner Nancy Thellman said that seemed to lead to a “huge” amount of possibilities. Plinsky agreed.

“While it is important that it is focused on recovery from COVID-19 and preparedness, I think there are a lot of really valuable places the funding can be spent in our community,” Plinsky said.

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