COVID-19

Walker County, cities getting $16.7 million in federal COVID-19 money

Local governments waiting for details on how to spend funds

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Walker County and its municipalities are set to get $16,749,507 in funding from the new federal coronavirus stimulus relief act, although local governments are waiting for more instructions before making decisions on how to spend the money by the end of 2024. 

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed by President Biden on March 11 has been featured for its $1,400 individual checks that are being deposited now, as well as for funding to help with COVID-19 vaccine distribution and unemployment.

However, a major feature that Democrats pushed for in the bill involved getting funds for local governments across the nation. Eventually the provision made it into the act, although Republicans said there were few if any limits on how the money will be spent. 

The House passed the bill 219-212 and the Senate passed it 50-49, with the House majority gaining only one vote when the House concurred with Senate changes to give final passage. All Republicans in Alabama's congressional delegation voted against the bill.  

AL.com said Alabama overall is getting $4 billion in direct aid from the new act. 

According to the National Association of Counties, $12,319,507 will go to the county government of Walker County from the State and Local Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Funds that are designated in the new act. 

Amounts for surrounding counties include Blount County, $11,214,997; Cullman County, $16,246,288; Fayette County, $3,161,673; Jefferson County, $127,726,178; Marion County, $5,761,878; Tuscaloosa County, $40,603,113; and Winston County, $4,582,699.

"The bill includes $65.1 billion in direct, flexible aid to every county in America, as well as other crucial investments in local communities," the group said on its website, naco.org

A summary of the legislation on the website indicates out of the $130.2 billion in the Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, besides the county funds, municipalities with populations below 50,000 will get $19.53 billion through the states. Metropolitan cities will get another $45.57 billion through direct aid - meaning counties and municipalities overall will each get $65.1 billion. 

"The U.S. Department of the Treasury would oversee and administer these payments to state and local governments, and every county would be eligible to receive a direct allocation from Treasury," the summary stated. "Municipalities and counties would now receive funds in two tranches – with 50 percent this year and the remaining 50 percent no earlier than 12 months from the first payment. The U.S. Treasury is required to pay first tranche to counties not later than 60-days after enactment, and second payment no earlier than 12 months after the first payment."

The county funding is based on the county share of the U.S. population, according to the summary. The funding to the smaller cities are "based on each jurisdiction’s percentage of the state’s population, not exceeding 75 percent of its most recent budget as of January 27, 2020." 

According to the summary, the funds can be used to for "the public health emergency with respect to the COVID-19 emergency or its negative economic impacts," including, for example, assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality - although not limited to those specific activities. 

It can be used to provide government services due to reduction in revenue due to COVID-19, or make necessary investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure. 

"State and local governments can transfer the funds to a private nonprofit organization, a public benefit corporation involved in the transportation of passengers or cargo or a special-purpose unit of State or local government," the summary said.

Also, premium pay - up to $13 an hour, with a cap of $25,000 for any single worker - may be paid for doing essential work during the pandemic.

However, no funds may be deposited into any pension fund, and it can't offset revenue losses from and legislative or regulation change during the pandemic that reduced any tax. Failing to comply with with the guidelines will require the local governments to repay the U.S. Treasury. 

The deadline to spend the funds is Dec. 31, 2024. The states and local governments have to report how the funds are spent. 

Allocations to local municipalities, based on a final distribution listed that can be downloaded from the U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus, includes the following: Carbon Hill, $350,000; Cordova, $340,000; Dora, $350,000; Eldridge, $20,000; Jasper, $2.49 million; Kansas, $40,000; Nauvoo, $40,000; Oakman, $130,000; Parrish, $170,000; Sipsey, $70,000; and Sumiton, $430,000. 

From the surrounding area, other city allocations include Winfield, $840,000; Arley, $60,000; Double Springs, $200,000; Fayette, $790,000; Cullman, $2.97 million; Hamilton, $1.22 million; and West Jefferson, $80,000. Birmingham will get $148.82 million, by far the most among cities, according to AL.com.

Walker County Commission Chairman Steve Miller said the $12 million for the county is "awesome," noting it is always good to hear the county is getting federal funds. However, the county has received no instructions from the feds on how it can use the funds. 

"We're basically waiting on the instructions, and, of course, waiting on the money," he said. 

In terms of what it could be used for, he said "nothing is set in concrete at this moment." The Association of County Commissions of Alabama is advising counties to hold up on spending any money until the association can do research on the new act in order to advise all the counties on how and where they will be able to spend the money. 

"We hope we have very few restrictions so that we can work on several projects - roads, debt and things the county needs. That would be great," Miller said. "But at this moment, we do not know what those guidelines are going to be." He stressed county officials wants to stay within the guidelines so that the county doesn't have to pay any money back. 

Jasper Mayor David O'Mary said he has heard Jasper will get $2.49 million "but nothing has hit our bank account," noting that the fund have to flow through the state and it is not clear how soon that will happen. 

"I can tell you we're looking in the mailbox everyday," he said.

As for what the funds could be used for, he said city officials, like Miller, want to see first how the funds can be used. "Probably in our next work session (on April 2), you'll probably hear me broach an idea about if the money can be used on some things we could do. I won't disclose that, but we're only a week and a half away from that. But we're excited." O'Mary said he also did not know the mindset of what the council would like to do with the money. 

He noted the funding coming in to the local governments, and said this could result in a "pretty significant" amount of money coming into the county.