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Anne Arundel finds $5 million to put toward additional pandemic assistance, exhausts the rest of CARES Act funds

Anne Arundel County has freed up $5 million of CARES Act funding to go toward COVID-19 pandemic relief efforts by charging some expenses incurred to a different pot of federal money.

In her last report detailing the way the county has spent various state and federal grants during the pandemic, Controller Karin McQuade told the County Council updated guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency means the county can now pass some pandemic costs onto the agency, releasing that money to be spent on other things within the CARES Act guidelines.

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“The county has employed a consultant to review costs already claimed on the CARES funds to determine which of those costs could instead be applied to the FEMA programs,” said Michael Beard, a county financial reporting manager.

The unencumbered funds come as the county has nearly exhausted the $101 million it received from the federal government last April, spending the bulk on public assistance programs to stop evictions, provide gift cards to jobless residents, pay utility bills and more.

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Of the $101 million, nearly $39 million went to other agencies that in turn used the money to support residents whose lives were upended as restrictions to protect the public against the novel coronavirus also froze large swaths of the economy, closed school buildings and overwhelmed existing social safety nets.

Arundel Community Development Services received over $11 million, which it used to help residents pay their rent and keep their water running. ACDS made payments on behalf of about 1,100 households, said president Kathy Koch, and has 1,000 more in the pipeline.

The program has plenty of money, but needs more time, she said, to process tenants and stop evictions before Aug. 15, when Gov. Larry Hogan’s eviction moratorium expires now that he ended Maryland’s state of emergency.

Koch’s agency has hired more attorneys and streamlined the paperwork to move applicants through the process more efficiently, but giving out the money requires careful documentation of the taxpayer dollars, she said, and the tangle of different moratoria from different state and federal authorities has caused confusion at the district court level, where people’s cases are heard.

“We have so many people about to be evicted and it’s breaking my heart,” she said. “We just need time.”

ACDS has also spent $400,000 toward helping 550 households pay water bills. Additional money went to providing 180 students with remote learning assistance and 52 nonprofits with additional funding for personal protective equipment, laptops and cleaning supplies. The agency funded case management for 31 people returning from prison and 91 food pantries providing meals for families throughout the county.

The Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation spent more than $15 million on relief to 634 restaurants and food-service establishments, 277 child care centers and at-home providers and 788 small businesses. The agency also used $126,000 to pay hunters and butchers to kill and process deer for venison that was then donated to food pantries.

To support laid-off and furloughed workers, the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation distributed 4,760 gift cards loaded with $500 each to help supplement lost income. The corporation is still doing a final analysis to understand the true impact of the program, said corporation president Kirkland Murray, but anecdotally, the additional money kept food on the table, “especially when we got around to holiday seasons,” he said.

“This was the difference between having a holiday, a Christmas or not,” Murray said.

The corporation also used the $3.3 million in CARES Act funding to provide workforce training for 237 people, child care assistance for 53 families and virtual summer camps for 86 children. Staff also used the funding to host virtual job fairs, Murray said, to replace the in-person events county businesses used to recruit and hire workers.

County department salaries

The county health department received nearly $40 million, the most of any agency and more than all outside grants combined. The police department received the second-most money of any other county department, at $8.5 million.

Among the departments, the county dedicated about $27 million to personnel costs, which included $15 million for salary, benefits and overtime for public health employees whose jobs either changed to accommodate additional pandemic-related responsibilities or who the county hired specifically to support a pandemic-related government program, such as COVID-19 contract tracing, testing or vaccination.

Under U.S. Treasury guidance, public health and other employees “substantially dedicated” to mitigating the pandemic could have the full cost of their employment charged to the CARES Act grant.

The CARES Act allowed local governments to put the federal dollars toward payroll for public safety officials as well.

“The county wanted to consider other options to use the CARES funding first, then apply public safety costs later,” Beard said. “After applying a lengthy list of costs from other efforts first, the county decided in May to apply approximately $6.6 million of police and fire department salaries. This is representative of the time spent by our public safety personnel on COVID-related activities during the public health emergency.”

The county spent $8 million on personnel expenses in the police department, including wages and overtime as well as leave after employees or their family members contracted or were exposed to COVID-19. Most of the money went toward patrol officers, Beard said. It dedicated nearly $5 million to personnel expenses in the fire department, which houses the county’s paramedics.

About $1.3 million went toward salaries and benefits for recreation and parks employees who provided child care to county families after schools and other private daycares closed.

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