Courtesy of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress and signed President Donald J. Trump on March 27, Webster County will receive $4,644,932 in funding from the package as part of the $520,975,478 awarded to the state of Missouri.
County officials received official word of the funding, intended to assist local governments in fighting COVID-19, early last week.
Now they’re trying to decide how to distribute it.
“Before we contact people and give them any sense of false hope, we want to get a clear direction of how to disperse the money,” Webster County Clerk Stan Whitehurst, R-Marshfield, said last Thursday. “We didn’t get confirmation on this (funding) until the last day or day and a half, so we’re still learning all of the specifics.”
All of Missouri’s 114 counties received a share of the state’s money, based on population, as did the city of St. Louis.
The higher awards in neighboring counties include Greene County at $34,384,836 and Christian County at $10,393,962.
Neighboring Laclede County’s award was similar to Webster’s at $4,191,021. Douglas County received $1,546,864,
Dallas County was at $1,980,126, while Wright County’s share was $2,145,665.
On April 10, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson formed an informal working group, led by State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, to make recommendations for the use of federal funding provided for COVID-19-related costs under the CARES Act.
In addition, an information portal has been created to help guide county officials tasked with distributing the federal emergency funds.
As of late last week, Whitehurst said the state’s guidance on the funding is still being developed.
“I don’t think we’re going to be quick to distribute the money,” he explained. “As of right now, we don’t have the money — only an estimate of what we will receive.
“But we’re looking at getting a team together to review distribution of the (federal) money. That’s a work in progress. I’ll be able to offer more clarity on how the money will be distributed once we learn more.”
Whitehurst said that per his understanding of the $4.6 million in CARES Act funding to Webster County, it is a budgeted fund, with all distributions approved by the three-person county commission, Whitehurst (as county clerk) and Webster County Treasurer Todd Hungerford.
“I do know that this funding is for direct expenditures related directly to the (COVID-19) virus,” Whitehurst said.
“I also know that we have until Dec. 31 to use the money. Any money not used must be paid back.”
What are examples of expenditures directly related to the virus?
“I think I can provide a couple of examples that work,” Whitehurst noted. “For example, let’s say the county’s health unit could get 1,000 COVID-19 test kits. That’s an example of direct use.
“Locally in the Seymour area, let’s say the city council there purchased custom plastic counter shields for the public library. Again, that’s an example of an expenditure that’s directly related to the virus.”
He said that as time passes, the county will communicate with public agencies and cities about the funding process.
“A key thing that people need to know is that this is not a windfall for the county,” Whitehurst concluded. “It isn’t meant to make up a budget shortfall or lost sales tax. And we can’t use it to fund the new jail.
“We are merely a clearinghouse or the means of distribution, as best I understand it. We are who a city would come to with a direct expense that is related to COVID-19, then we would go through a review to make sure that claim meets the criteria.”
To that end, Webster County officials will keep the cities of the county updated on the process. The same will be done with other county agencies and entities.
“Our goal, from a county’s perspective, will be to be as helpful as possible to the agencies or cities that qualify for this funding,” Whitehurst said.
“I’m optimistic that a week from now, we’ll have a much better understanding of the process.”