Cities and counties hand out thousands of dollars of leftover COVID funds

Long after the lockdowns and mask mandates, local governments are still searching for somebody, anybody, to award hundreds of thousands of dollars in unspent taxpayer funds received during the pandemic under the CARES Act. It seems the last thing local officials consider is returning the leftover dollars to the treasury. Facing an October deadline, they’re running out of time to find ways to spend down the balance.

Mankato is committed to handing out $102,000 in surplus federal COVID funds, the Free Press says, after failing to give away all of the cash through other pandemic programs over the last couple of years.

The money — a supplemental appropriation to Mankato from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2021 — was originally slated for home rehabilitation grants, administration and planning, sanitation and personal protective equipment and food assistance.

For various reasons, not all of the funds were used, according to a memo to the City Council in advance of tonight’s meeting. In most cases, potential recipients of the money didn’t step forward or planned projects were canceled.

Who gets the pay out? It’s up to the members of the Mankato City Council to make the call on who benefits. They voted to target the remaining funds on a subsistence payment program for low-income residents to prevent what the paper called “possible homelessness.”

“To be eligible, applicants must be a City of Mankato resident and can request assistance for outstanding utilities, rent, associated late fees or rent deposit. Applicants must also meet income limits (80% or less Area Median Income) to be eligible. First priority will be given to individuals who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and second priority will be given to individuals with outstanding utilities and/or rent without notice of losing housing.”

Because the funding was provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — commonly known as the CARES Act — recipients will need to show they suffered financial setbacks related to the pandemic. The past impacts could include reduced work hours or layoffs or added expenses due to the pandemic and its economic and medical repercussions.

Meantime, Cass County faced the dilemma of deciding who should benefit from $265,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds still in the bank. The county board received grant applications requesting up to $108,000 for projects ranging from subsidized housing to child care and a new ambulance, according to the Brainerd Dispatch.

With approximately $265,000 left to spend in American Rescue Plan Act grant funding and requests totaling over $400,000, Cass County officials have some tough decisions to make.

Cass County Board of Commissioners heard from seven different American Rescue Plan Act grant applicants at the board’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 21. County Administrator Josh Stevenson suggested the board hear from all applicants and then make a decision at the end to allow for the board to better accommodate everyone.

Ultimately, all of the applicants scored some funding, including a $3,000 request from a group advocating alternative root cellars and humane chicken butchering.

Barbara Mann with Balsam Moon Preserve presented the next grant request in the amount of $3,000 to assist in expanding programs provided to the public on alternative, sustainable living. With this funding the organization plans to offer programs to include a soil regeneration project, alternative root cellar design, expanding the children’s story walk through the woods, humane chicken butchering, foraging for wild edibles and other classes.

The same scenario is playing out in many local governments across the state, another example of long-COVID in which taxpayers continue to experience the long-term financial effects of the pandemic that won’t go away.