Lake County considers options for second round of federal relief funding
The books are closed on $121 million in federal CARES Act funds and Lake County officials now are considering how best to allocate the second injection of COVID relief money.
Lake County will get $136 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding. Half has been received and the rest is expected in April. Unlike CARES Act funds, which came during the chaotic early days of the pandemic, county officials have a better understanding of how to deal with myriad details.
An initial list of about $40 million in potential expenditures, including $7 million for a permanent, fixed-site homeless shelter, is being considered, said Jim Hawkins, deputy county administrator.
CARES Act funds came amid unprecedented circumstances and the resources had to be allocated where they were needed within a short time frame. Eighty percent of the funding was earmarked by November of 2020.
Analyzing the needs, fielding and categorizing requests, and navigating the rules required a monumental effort by county staff. A special finance committee of the county board was formed to help guide the process and make recommendations.
"We were like building the plane while we were flying," said Jennifer Clark, a county board member who sits on the special committee.
CARES Act funding could be used for expenses incurred due to the public health emergency or to provide support, such as rental assistance, to those impacted by COVID-19-related business closures.
The second round of funding from ARPA can be used to meet pandemic response needs, and also to rebuild the economy as the country recovers. That can include support for households, small businesses and affected industries, as well as investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, county officials said.
The county has until the end of 2024 to earmark the funds and until the end of 2026 to spend them. This round provides some breathing room but a considerable amount of work already has been done to categorize and prioritize potential areas to spend the money.
The first step involved projects and initiatives suggested internally by various county departments in six categories: household assistance; infrastructure and facilities; economic and business investment; public health; county operations; and revenue replacement.
More than $108 million in suggestions were vetted and about $40.6 million in recommended expenses were presented to the special finance committee Thursday.
"This is not final approval," said county board member Paul Frank, who chairs the committee.
Assistant County Administrator Matt Meyers said the list is fluid and options will continue to be refined and prioritized based on need. Recommended projects that received consensus from the committee will proceed to other committees before going to the full county board for final approval in March.