More than $558 million in direct federal aid flooded into five Front Range counties last month as unprecedented government spending in Washington, D.C., made its way to the Centennial State.
“We’ve never received any kind of money like this, ever,” said Jerry DiTullio, the treasurer in Jefferson County.
Now, county officials must decide how to distribute the response money to municipalities and what to spend it on, even as Congress is considering whether to send $1 trillion more to states and municipalities nationwide.
“More than anything, we want to make sure we are nimble and flexible with those dollars, and we want to get them into cities’ hands as soon as possible,” said Lesley Dahlkemper, chair of the Jefferson County Board of County Commissioners. “But we also want to make sure that we are responsible.”
The $558 million figure represents only direct aid to the five Colorado counties with at least 500,000 people or more which received the aid under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The other 59 Colorado counties are out of luck — at least for now.
And that half a billion dollars also doesn’t account for a gush of federal agency appropriations, such as the $42 million Housing and Urban Development has awarded to Colorado. It does not reflect the $7.3 billion in Paycheck Protection Program money for businesses here, or the roughly $300 million in federal business loans, or the extra federal money that’s going to those who qualify for unemployment.
Jefferson County, which accepted $101.7 million from the CARES Act, is considering whether it can be used to set up a grant program for local businesses that suffered losses due to the pandemic, Dahlkemper said. Commissioners are scheduled to hash out the details Monday. So far, the county has spent about $337,000 on pandemic response, a number that is expected to rise.
In some cases, cities and counties have been hesitant to spend the emergency appropriations, because the federal government hasn’t told them exactly how to.
“The biggest potential problem is going to be, the rules and regulations are constantly changing on this money,” DiTullio said. “And right now the money is fairly liquid and you can use it for a lot of different COVID-related items.
“I think if and when the federal government starts ratcheting down on that money is when it is going to be an issue. And I think people are going to be making some decisions based on current information, where in the future it may not be the same rules and regulations. The federal government will need to have some flexibility with everybody because it is a constantly changing world,” the treasurer added.
In El Paso County, which received $125.7 million in CARES Act money, the county will retain $83 million and the rest will be sent to cities on a per-capita basis, according to Mark Waller, a county commissioner. Colorado Springs will receive about $38 million, he said.
“We anticipate a little more guidance from the federal government on the use of the funds,” Waller told reporters during a Tuesday press conference. “But to this point, I believe the federal government has been kind of lax on the way these funds are going to be spent, because I think they understand that the maximum amount of flexibility is what it is going to take in order for us to use those dollars as effectively as possible, to ensure we are recovering.”
While El Paso County plans to pass out money based on local populations, Arapahoe County is taking a different approach and asking municipalities to make requests for specific, demonstrable expenses, said Luc Hatlestad, spokesman for the county, which accepted about $114.5 million.
“This will be based on specific needs,” he said, adding that the county has drafted objectives for spending that prioritize economic recovery, the health of county and city employees, antibody testing, support for vulnerable residents and education on best practices for dealing with the coronavirus.
Denver officials expect to receive final guidance from the federal government on how its money can be spent in the next two weeks, according to Julie Smith, spokeswoman for the Department of Finance. Denver accepted $126.8 million in direct CARES Act funds from the federal government, she said, and has also accepted other federal grant money. Officials are now examining which pots of federal money can pay for what expenses.
The almost $4 million Denver has spent on medical supplies could be among expenses covered, as well as nearly $14 million spent on shelter services and supplies, or $2 million spent on cleaning and sanitation supplies, Smith said.
On Thursday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock wrote to the state’s congressional delegation, requesting more money for cities. If cities and states are instead forced to declare bankruptcy, it would be “absolutely disastrous,” Hancock said.
“We would see layoffs, quite frankly, of our most important soldiers,” Hancock told reporters and activists during a conference call Friday. “Men and women, our police officers, our firefighters, our teachers, our local health officials and other essential personnel. All while we’re battling this pandemic.”
Adams County, which received about $90 million from the federal government, will finalize its distribution of money Tuesday, according to spokeswoman Christa Bruning.
As the Front Range’s most populous counties count their cash, small towns in the mountains and beyond wonder if and when fiscal help will arrive. Estes Park is expecting sales tax revenue to fall by 50% this year, dealing a serious blow to the tourist town’s general fund.
“Unfortunately, we do not anticipate receiving additional federal relief funds at this time, despite a great need,” said Kate Rusch, a spokeswoman for Estes Park.
Congressional Democrats are considering legislation to send as much as $1 trillion to states and local governments, including small towns. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat whose district includes Estes Park, has introduced a bill to send small and medium-sized cities and counties $250 billion in direct federal aid.
“We are not in a terrible position, but there are a lot of towns our size and smaller that really are,” said Will Karspeck, the mayor of Berthoud, a northern Colorado city of about 8,000 people.
“I’ve been on a lot of phone calls with mayors,” he added, “and it’s just really sad to hear the pain smaller communities are going through.”
This content was originally published here.