Hamilton County scrambles to spend its CARES Act money on testingDavid Holthaus In April, Hamilton County received $142 million from the federal government, under the CARES Act, to help ease the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. County officials allocated $19 million of that to ramp up and expand testing for the disease, but six months later, the county has spent practically nothing from that testing budget.
With a Dec. 30 deadline looming to spend the funds, the county is seeking an extension from the federal government and asking for more time to spend the testing dollars, says County Administrator Jeff Aluotto.
If an extension doesn’t come through, county officials are planning to re-allocate the testing funds into another COVID-19 program, Aluotto says.
“If we can’t spend all of our testing dollars, where are we going to allocate those dollars next so we can spend that money, get it out, get it in the hands of the people in the community who can use it,” Aluotto says.
Increased testing is considered a key public health strategy to control the spread of the virus so those infected, as well as the people they come into contact with, can be isolated until they are virus free.
In July, the county agreed to an $18.1 million contract with the Health Collaborative, which is subcontracting with five local health systems to execute the on-the-ground testing program.
However, getting the program off the ground has suffered from bureaucratic and legal delays. The first test under this program was not done until Aug. 28.
“This has been the hardest one to scale up,” Aluotto says. “We had to go through a competitive procurement process. We have a contract for delivery of medical services, which took a long time to finalize legally. And now we’re on a sprint to get this as much of this done as we can.”
Unlike the testing program, the county’s CARES Act funding for small-business assistance is expected to be spent by the end of the year, Aluotto says.
The county recently changed the requirements to make more businesses eligible for up to $10,000 in grants from the program.
In the first round of small-business funding, Hamilton County awarded $1.7 million to nearly 220 small businesses. In the second round, more than $5 million will be awarded to about 600 businesses, Aluotto says. The application period for the second round closed at the end of August.
Under the new requirements, businesses that received $20,000 or less in federal Paycheck Protection Program assistance or an Economic Injury Disaster Loan are still eligible for help
from the county. The first round excluded those businesses that received any federal assistance.
Also, businesses no longer need to show a 35% revenue decline from 2019, as they did under the first-round restrictions. They can simply fall into the category of being having been required to close by the state or show a 15% revenue decline year-over-year because of COVID-19.
In another change, businesses can now have less than $2 million in gross annual revenue to qualify, an increase from $1 million in the first round.