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Jackson County Finally Poised To Release Coronavirus Relief Funds To Kansas City

04292020_COVID-19_Testing_KCMO_0004.JPG
Julie Denesha
FILE PHOTO: Staff members collect samples during drive-through COVID- 19 testing in the parking lot of Independence Boulevard Christian Church on Gladstone Blvd., in Kansas City Missouri. The testing site, run by Samuel U Rodgers Health Clinic, was part of the Kansas City, Missouri Health Department's efforts to track the illness.

Nearly four months after Jackson County received more than $120 million in federal coronavirus relief money, Kansas City has yet to see a significant portion of those funds.

Kansas City, Missouri is finally poised to see a notable portion of the coronavirus relief funding it requested from Jackson County more than three months ago.

In early May, Jackson County received more than $120 million in direct funding from the federal government as part of the CARES Act, but Kansas City did not receive any money directly because it fell short of the 500,000-population threshold to receive a direct payment.

The same month, Mayor Quinton Lucas requested nearly $55 million from the county, based on the 44% of Jackson County residents who live within city limits. But rather than a lump sum, the county opted to appropriate money in smaller portions approved for specific expenditures.

A city council committee on Wednesday approved a plan that will allocate more than $17 million to combat the virus and provide economic relief to Kansas City businesses. The full council will vote on the plan Thursday.

While Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said she was glad to be moving forward now, she was frustrated at the delay in getting funds from Jackson and Platte counties.

“I think two of our counties here are being very, well, they’re just abdicating their responsibility to their citizens,” Shields said.

Clay County sent Kansas City a share of funding weeks ago.

Under the spending plan passed by the city’s Finance, Governance and Public Safety committee Wednesday, more than $8.6 million is earmarked for the health department, $3.5 for the fire department, and $1.3 million for the police and other departments.

An additional $2 million will be used to aid economic relief efforts, including $350,000 for the Black Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City, and the Mid-American LGBT Chamber of Commerce to help minority business owners.

The remaining $3.4 million will be placed in a reserve fund for unanticipated costs, but Jackson County will have to approve any expenditure from that fund.

Shields requested that $150,000 be directed to the Kansas City Election board to process mail-in ballots for the November Election, as the pandemic will likely result in an influx of mail-in and absentee voting. The county will have to approve that change as well.

Councilwoman Melissa Robinson said the limits on how the city can use the money from Jackson County are too restrictive.

“My judgment is that it was definitely overkill as it relates to the restrictions that they put on us in terms of spending the money,” Robinson said.

Considering the delay in receiving the funding, Robinson urged her colleagues to start making future plans for the remaining $36 million she thinks the city is owed, even though the county has not promised to appropriate any more.

“I am very fearful if we continue to piecemeal this and wait for agreements and those types of things with the county we won’t have the time to be able to get the remainder of our money,” Robinson said.

Governments that do not use the federal relief money by the end of the year must return it to the federal government.

Kansas City will receive the funding once the spending plan is approved by the council and the agreement signed by all parties.

Wednesday’s discussion comes as the city is facing an unprecedented budget crisis due to the pandemic.

The finance department told city officials this week that revenues in April and May came in slightly lower than their worst-case prediction. That means the city needs to cut about $50 million from the current budget and nearly $60 from next year’s budget.

A proposed 4.5% budget cut across all city departments, largely excluding police and fire, will only save about $26 million, meaning furloughs and deeper hiring freezes will be necessary. The finance department plans to introduce an ordinance proposing additional cost-cutting measures Thursday.

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