CLARION – Millions of dollars in relief could be on the horizon for area counties with the passage of a federally-funded bill.
Last week, the National Association of Counties (NACo) released information regarding a $1.9 trillion relief package proposed by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which would provide $350 billion to “help states, counties, cities and tribal governments cover increased expenditures, replenish lost revenue and mitigate economic harm from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Should the bill pass in its current form, according to statewide figures provided by NACo, Armstrong County would receive more than $12.6 million in relief funding, and Clarion County would receive more than $7.5 million.
“That would really help us,” Clarion County Commissioner Ted Tharan said of the proposed funding, noting that several county businesses and service agencies have been adversely affected by the pandemic — most notably healthcare services such as the hospital and ambulance companies.
“I think you can use it to reimburse businesses or places that have been adversely affected by COVID [and] the first place that comes to mind for me is our healthcare services,” Tharan said. He explained that the hospital has been adversely affected by the pandemic because surgeries were canceled for that three-month period, but the staff continued to be paid.
“...They depend on having people in the hospital getting surgeries, getting tests and stuff, that’s how they make their money to stay open,” he said. “If you take that all away from them, you have to come up with that money somewhere.”
A press release from NACo describing the funding indicates that “once an eligible entity provides a certification on the use or needs of the funds to the U.S. Treasury, the agency is required to make the payment within 60 days.”
Tharan said that an attractive feature about this bill is that the money comes directly to the local agencies for distribution, according to any given guidelines, with no apparent expiration date.
“NACo wants the money to come directly to the counties because we’re the ones on the frontline,” he said. “Our group wants the money to come to the counties [since] we know better how to spend it than Harrisburg does.”
Regarding what comes next for the bill’s passage, Tharan said that a show of support would be good.
“I think what they [NACo] want us to do is call our congressmen and our representatives at the federal level to support this bill in its current form,” he said.
The U.S. House is aiming to pass its COVID-19 relief bill before the end of February, with individual committees busy marking up and considering their respective pieces of the legislation — a process that will be replicated by the U.S. Senate, NACO’s release states. Once both chambers have completed this process, they will meet to reconcile differences and send a final bill to the president’s desk for his signature.
The press release went on to say that NACo applauds the committee for introducing a bill like this “that recognizes the vital frontline role of America’s counties in mitigating and ending the COVID-19 pandemic.”
NACo goes on to say that the proposed bill is “a significant step in addressing the urgent needs of our nation’s county governments as we continue to provide essential services to more than 300 million residents.”
Tharan also pointed to two additional relief grants the county applied for recently.
“We just applied yesterday for the $535,000 Hospitality money that [Gov.] Wolf just approved,” he said. “That’s to give to businesses to help [the ones] that were struggling or lost money during COVID.”
In addition, he said, the county also applied fo relief money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“They said if you do a stand-up clinic like we did, and I think we’re the only ones in the state that have one so far, that they will reimburse us all of our expenses,” Tharan said.
According to Tharan, The FEMA money should cover the rent for the building, the employees who work there, PPE and anything else that the county spends in relation to the clinic.
He explained that while the hospital is paying for the nurses, pharmacists and people staffing the computers at the recently opened vaccine clinic, the county is covering everything else.
“It sure looks to me like FEMA is going to make money available for us to get reimbursed for our total expenses down there,” Tharan added. “Getting shots in arms and getting money back to cover our costs is going to be really good.”