By Randy Arrington
LURAY, July 30 — On June 1, Page County received a federal allocation of $2,085,357 into its treasury. That represents about 3 percent of the county’s overall budget, and the federal funds had been received within 19 days of the initial request from county officials.
“There was no application to receive the funds, only a signed certification outlining the details and responsibilities of the local governing body,” Page County Administrator Amity Moler stated in an email in June.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27. The CARES Act established the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) to provide funding to states and eligible branches of local government to respond to immediate needs during the current pandemic.
Virginia received a total of $3.1 billion in federal CRF funding, with $1.3 billion earmarked for localities. Virginia’s Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne sent a memorandum to cities and counties on May 12, outlining the distribution of the first round of funds to local governments, totaling $644.6 million.
“Local governments are responsible for spending the money they receive, and we need them to step up and make sure that these federal dollars are going to the right places,” Secretary Layne said. “Localities must be able to demonstrate to taxpayers that they are spending these funds wisely.”
Moler submitted Page County’s certification on May 13, and more than $2 million arrived in county coffers 19 days later.
“We had a second-hand ’06 ambulance that broke down beyond repair during this pandemic, and we’ve ordered a replacement which we can cover with CARES money,” Moler said in June. “The Board of Supervisors plans to use the majority of the funding toward much-needed broadband initiatives to facilitate distance learning for our students and teachers and improving telework capabilities for so many without internet access at home.”
Under the terms of the CARES Act, the Commonwealth was not required to share the federal funds with localities with populations under 500,000.
“Virginia was one of the first states to provide such a large share of its federal aid directly to local governments,” Governor Ralph Northam stated in a press release. “We are committed to making sure localities of all sizes get the assistance they need to respond to COVID-19 and keep Virginians safe during these unprecedented times.”
In addition, Page County was not required to share the federal funds with the three towns within its borders. However, the county took the state’s lead and decided to base allocations of the funds on the population of each locality. The $2,085,357 Page County received on June 1 breaks down as follows:
- $1,308,443.99 to the County – population of 15,085 (minus towns) – county’s portion will be shared with the school division;
- $424,582.92 to the Town of Luray – population 4,895;
- $205,829.47 to the Town of Shenandoah – population 2,373;
- $146,500.62 to the Town of Stanley – population 1,689.
Each town will submit receipts to the county and be reimbursed for qualifying purchases and allowable expenses on a monthly basis. The CARES Act requires that payments from the CRF may only be used to cover costs that:
- Are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19;
- Were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020 (enactment of CARES Act) for the State or government;
- Were incurred during the period that begins on March 1, 2020, and ends on December 30, 2020.
“The funds have to be spent toward actions taken to respond to the public health emergency such as medical expenses, public health, expenses of actions taken to facilitate compliance with COVID-19 (distance learning, telework and telehealth), unemployment claims and payroll or overtime expenses for emergency services and public safety responding to the COVID-19 health emergency,” Moler stated.
Stanley Town Manager Terry Pettit reported to the town council last Wednesday that $41,776 in CARES Act funding has been requested from the county, including about $36,000 for a new police vehicle.
The Town of Shenandoah is also looking at the purchase of a new police vehicle, as well as laptops for officers to use in the field. They also plan to get quotes on a large sign board, and the construction of a new restroom and hand sanitizing stations at Wigwam Village Park. So far, Shenandoah has received $7,638.33 in initial reimbursements, according to Moler.
The Town of Luray has requested $11,104.16 in reimbursements from the county. Luray has also solicited bids for a new police vehicle and is looking to invest a portion of the federal funds into equipment and costs associated with live-streaming public meetings. Luray Town Manager Steve Burke told the Luray Council recently that recent meetings live-streamed on social media have drawn more than 600 viewers.
The majority of CARES Act funds spent so far among the county and the three towns have covered the costs associated with making public spaces more safe during the current pandemic, such as the installation of plexiglass barriers at counters and hand sanitizing stations in public buildings, purchasing additional face masks and gloves for staff, and procuring additional PPE for emergency personnel.
The federal funding should also support the cost of no-touch thermometers needed after a recent decision by the Page County School Board to require health screenings and temperature checks for all students and staff entering school buildings this school year.
On Tuesday, Governor Ralph Northam announced that Virginia will distribute another $644.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding to local governments in its second and final round of allocations. The funds will be distributed in the same manner and in the same amounts as the first round of payments. The Secretary of Finance issued an updated memorandum to cities and counties, which includes the distributions by locality.
To receive the second allocation, localities must submit a new certification form and complete an online survey regarding the use of their CRF dollars. After these two documents are completed and submitted, the Department of Accounts will initiate the transfer of funds to the local Treasurer. Localities can expect to receive the transfer from the State Comptroller within five business days following confirmation of receipt of the completed documents, according to a press release issued by the governor’s office.
Current federal rules prohibit state and local governments from using the CRF to replace lost revenues and address significant budget shortfalls. State and local government officials have requested that this restriction be lifted in future stimulus packages.
The Governor previously announced $246 million to support the state’s response to COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, including $205 million in federal CARES Act funds. Governor Northam also allocated an initial $50 million to launch the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program and help Virginians who are unable to pay their rent or mortgage due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia also recently unveiled a $70 million economic recovery fund to assist small businesses and nonprofit organizations whose normal operations were disrupted by the ongoing health crisis.
The Commonwealth has distributed more than $600 million to K-12 schools and higher education institutions and $70 million to assist child care facilities in providing services for essential personnel. Virginia also allocated $85 million in CARES Act funding to support child nutrition programs, and $219 million for the Pandemic EBT program through the Department of Social Services.