After initially planning to give back millions in unspent coronavirus aid, Franklin County now plans to spend all of the more than $25 million it has or will soon be getting from the federal government.
The county has about $5 million remaining from the more than $12 million it got from the 2020 Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act and is anticipating getting $20.2 million more from the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act, Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker said Thursday, March 18.
“We’re going to do some real strong evaluating to see what it can be applied to,” Brinker said of the recently announced aid. “The commission has made the determination that we are not going to send one penny back, not one red cent. We are spending every dollar that we are getting within the county. The reason for that, we feel as though we as commissioners can certainly impact better our county with these dollars in hand than anybody in D.C. … God knows what they’d throw that money at if we didn’t use it.”
Brinker was speaking at the end of the county’s transportation committee meeting, made up of officials from communities around Franklin County.
“It’s a shame, but that’s where it is right now, (regardless) of how wasteful this entire process has been from our tax dollars,” he said. “This whole 10 to 12 percent of it truly going to prevention of the virus and mitigation of the virus out of the billions that are being put forth is an absurdity beyond description.”
While $265 billion, about 8.5 percent of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, is going toward things specifically related to COVID-19 like testing, protective gear, treatments, vaccines and distribution, supporters of the bill say the majority of money allocated assists Americans hurt by the pandemic by providing things like $1,400 payments to most people, as well as additional unemployment benefits.
After the meeting, Brinker confirmed the county would have returned its unspent money had the “conservative federal leadership” of President Donald Trump still been in office.
“With the current out-of-control federal government, there’s no way we’re going to trust them with our tax dollars,” he said.
Hours later, at the commission’s workshop meeting, commissioners decided to direct most, if not all, of the remaining 2020 CARES money to education and emergency workers.
That includes awarding another $250 per student to local schools. The federal government allotted up to $500 per student. Last year, Franklin County gave up to $250 per student to area school districts, as well as private schools.
Now it will award the remaining $250 per student.
“I think we have money left over, we ought to disperse some to the schools again,” Commissioner Todd Boland said.
County officials plan to contact the schools and advise them the additional money is now available.
With the money remaining, the county plans to repay salaries and benefits for local law enforcement, fire, ambulance and 911 dispatch workers. It will start with county employees and then discuss giving money to city emergency workers.
Commissioner Dave Hinson did not attend the workshop.
The 2020 CARES money must be spent by June 30.
Brinker told the transportation committee he would like to use some of the county’s share of the 2021 stimulus package for road work, but he is still looking into that.
“Unfortunately, to this point we can’t lock down an allowable use for infrastructure in terms of roads and transportation,” Brinker said. “If something does open up and come to fruition on that, we’ll certainly look into some opportunities within the county from an infrastructure perspective.”