Local agencies start to see federal funds for COVID-related efforts

by KATE SHUNNEY & KATE EVANS

Federal funds authorized by the CARES Act to help offset expenses and economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have made their way to Morgan County in several ways, from stimulus checks to business loans.

Local government agencies have also gotten federal funds to cover the costs of adjusting their operations to respond to the public health crisis.

According to the State of West Virginia’s online OpenGov financial reporting system, four Morgan County agencies have received various COVID-19 related payments since May.

Town of Bath

The Town of Bath received $2,908.49 in May through the state. Mayor Scott Merki said that money will cover the costs of installing a glass partition wall in the Town of Bath municipal office. The partition separates customers from town employees to reinforce social distancing.

Merki said there have been other payouts by the town to respond to the coronavirus. He said he couldn’t name all of the expenses. Merki said the town would be sending in expenses to the state on “an ongoing basis” as allowed.

Morgan County Commission

The Morgan County Commission received $4,494.65 in June for its expenses related to COVID-19.

County Administrator Stefanie Allemong said the county has submitted requests to be reimbursed for supplies like hand sanitizer, masks, personal protective equipment for employees, cleaning supplies and partitions in various offices.

Allemong said the county has also submitted some overtime expenses for the 911 center, but hasn’t heard if those will be covered by the CARES Act funding.

Allemong said the county will continue to submit their funding requests.

She pointed out that these payments are separate from the HEROES Act funds. Each of West Virginia’s counties received $100,000 from that COVID-related funding. Allemong said counties are still waiting for guidance from the governor or federal government about how that money can be spent.

“We’re still sitting on that,” she said.

Board of Education

The Morgan County Board of Education received $45,720.66 in May from the CARES Act fund through the state.

School Treasurer Ann Bell and Child Nutrition Director Angela Beddow said that the $45,720 listed as May COVID-19 payments on the West Virginia State Open Government website were reimbursements for the costs of school student meals. Those costs included produce, utilities and labor.

Three May 8 payments of $551.46, $27,021.54 and $17,331.60 and a fourth payment of $816.06 on May 4 went to the Morgan County Schools child nutrition program.

The reimbursement costs were costs for meals that were sent home to students based on the meal count that Beddow does daily for school breakfasts and lunches, Bell said.

The reimbursement money covers salaries for food service employees, food expenditures and utilities.

The May 4 payment was tagged as National School Lunch Program (NSLP) which was part of the regular school lunch program. After the pandemic the funding went to the summer feeding program. SSO is Seamless Summer Options, she aid.

Bell said that everything is labeled COVID now. Governor Jim Justice mandated that they feed kids.

Bell said the school system hadn’t seen the $45,720 yet. They have to do the budget and have it approved at the state level before the funding can be released.

The money is not used for personal protection equipment (PPE) or new equipment, Bell said. The reimbursement money just goes back into the food service program.

Health Department

The largest reimbursement from the federal pot of money has been to the joint Berkeley-Morgan Health Department, which is the agency leading the public health response to COVID-19 in the two counties.

The agency has been preparing for disease response; coordinating with local, state and national sources of protective equipment; monitoring disease case information; tracing contacts when COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in either county and staying in direct contact with residents who have the disease for the duration of their illness.

Berkeley-Morgan Health Department received $82,764 in June for expenses related to their disease response activities.

“Those were CDC funds we applied for,” said Administrator Bill Kearns. “This has basically paid a small portion of the personnel cost that we have incurred.”

Kearns said the Health Department has spent over $250,000 on staffing and personnel during the COVID response so far.

The public can look at state paymEnts related to COVID-19 through the West Virginia Open Government website. Searches can be narrowed by agency or date. https://westvirginia.opengov.com

Governor’s proposal

Last Friday, Gov. Jim Justice said he is proposing to distribute $1.25 billion in federal funding through the CARES Act “to benefit all West Virginians.”

Under his proposal, local governments would receive $200 million, small businesses could see $150 million in grants, Fairmont Hospital would receive $10 million for its expenses setting up as a “surge hospital.”

The governor said COVID-19 related highway projects would be funded at a level of $100 million. Medical Access Route Projects that “will improve access to medical facilities” fall into this category, said the governor.

“This will allow other money in the road fund to be redirected for other projects,” Justice said.

Deputy Secretary Jimmy Wriston says the DOT is identifying eligible projects and plans to post them on an all-new online dashboard in the weeks ahead.

Local public service districts, which include water and wastewater systems, are set to receive $25 million in COVID funding, said the governor. He said it would offset some districts’ inability to collect payments during this time.

Other funding will go to the state to reimburse for stocking up on personal protective equipment prior to the federal government involvement in funding that effort. State agencies will also be paid back for COVID-19 related expenses. Those two items add up to $73 million in the governor’s proposal.

WorkForce West Virginia is set to receive $687 million to “help support unemployed West Virginians” in both the short term (during 2020) and over the next fiscal year.

 

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