‘Baby steps:’ Clark County officials respond to $9.7 million in new relief funding from the state

The money still leaves the county far short of the $80 million they believe the state should have made available

CLARK COUNTY —— The state of Washington announced this week that an additional $162 million in Coronavirus Relief Funding was being distributed, including $126 million to local governments for COVID-19 related expenses, and $62 million to public health departments.

Clark County will receive an additional $9.7 million, with $2.8 million more going to the city of Vancouver, and approximately $1.1 million being split between the other cities in the county.

The state is also extending a deadline for governments to apply for reimbursement of COVID-19 related expenses until Nov. 30, from a previous deadline of Oct. 31.

Gov. Jay Inslee also announced that Clark County Public Health would receive $9.7 million in funding directly from the State Department of Health as part of the latest round of funding.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee at a press conference in March. Photo courtesy Office of Gov. Jay Inslee
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee at a press conference in March. Photo courtesy Office of Gov. Jay Inslee

During a meeting of the Clark County Council on Wednesday, Councilor Gary Medvigy called the announcement of the additional funding a step in the right direction.

“But it’s a baby step,” he added.

The money comes from $150 billion allocated to states through the $2 trillion federal CARES Act stimulus plan approved by Congress last March. 

The state of Washington received nearly $3 billion, with around $800 million distributed directly to local governments with more than 500,000 residents.

Guidance from the US Department of Treasury was for states to distribute at least 55 percent of the remaining funding to local governments with populations below 500,000 people, using the same per capita formula.

In May, the state announced $297 million was being distributed to those local governments, including $26.8 million to Clark County.

The county was quick to point out that Spokane County, with a population just 7.2 percent larger, had received over $90 million in CRF relief.

In response to a letter sent last June by Clark County Councilors, and later followed up by legislators from around the state, Office of Finance Management (OFM) Director David Schumacher said the federal guidance had been vague, leaving it up to states how to best handle the funding.

Schumacher also promised in that July 22 letter that he was directing OFM to prepare another $247 million in CRF dollars to be distributed to local governments.

The Aug. 31 announcement by Gov. Inslee does not clarify why distributing the funding took so long, or why the actual amount being distributed to local governments is $121 million less than Schumacher had pledged in his earlier statement.

In a press release announcing the additional funding, the governor says the amount was reached in consultation with “legislative leaders.”

“Counties continue to deliver the critical services needed to combat COVID-19 while also providing support to local businesses and our most vulnerable populations,” said Robert Gelder, Kitsap County commissioner and president of the Washington State Association of Counties in that announcement. “The release of additional dollars from the Coronavirus Relief Fund comes at a crucial time as we prepare for the cold and flu season.”

While praising the state for at least sending some more money through, Clark County councilors said they still planned to send a follow-up letter to Gov. Inslee, urging him to order OFM to release the full funding amount.

“We have some restaurants and small businesses that are teetering on the verge of

literally just collapsing and going away,” said Councilor Julie Olson. “Instead of looking at how do we spend $50 million in these four categories, we’re now looking at how we spend $9.7.”

Those four categories include economic relief for small businesses and restaurants facing hardship from the recent shutdowns, housing stability, homelessness, and support for area school districts.

The state had previously announced that Clark County would be receiving nearly $5 million in funding for rental assistance, which they are currently working to distribute to landlords with tenants who are behind on their rent.

“Very happy about the money that came from the state for rent relief, and I’m grateful to see that in action and moving forward,” said Councilor Temple Lentz. “It’s also probably going to be, in the end, a drop in the bucket of what’s needed.”

Clark County staff are working to finalize the letter to be sent to Gov. Jay Inslee, though they’re waiting to finish assigning the new $9.7 million, and then creating a list of where the remaining money could be spent.

“I know that these small business owners are hurting,” said Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien. “And so, whatever we can do to keep them open and alive, we’ll be doing.”

The state has put together a website showing where the federal relief funding is being spent. It includes more than $8 million to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to cover costs associated with implementing online learning, along with more than $44 million for community and technical colleges in the state.  

More than $83 million was sent to the state Department of Health for contact tracing programs and testing. Another $40 million was spent to help people unable to access federal assistance programs due to their immigration status.

The state has until Dec. 31 to spend all of the $2.2 billion sent through the CARES Act.