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City receives CARES Act money

Suffolk has received more than $10 million in federal CARES Act money, but city officials say how it is to be spent has yet to be clearly defined.

City Finance Director Tealen Hansen told City Council at its most recent meeting last week that its funding is to be used “for the following broad categories — to prevent, prepare for and respond to the coronavirus pandemic.”

The $10 million breaks down like this:

  • $8 million in general assistance money through the coronavirus relief fund.
  • $282,715 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development as community development block grant money
  • $97,120 through the Department of Justice, which will be split among Suffolk Fire and Rescue, Suffolk Police, the city’s sheriff’s department and the Western Tidewater Regional Jail for personal protective equipment.
  • $2.1 million for the city’s bus service in COVID-19 relief money from the Federal Transit Administration, which is to be used for safety improvements and enhancements for bus stops and for riders on city buses.
  • $83,865 for EMS providers through the Department of Health and Human Services. Hansen said there may be a second round of this funding coming to the city, but it doesn’t yet know how much it would be. The money would be used to buy PPE and decontamination equipment.
  • She also expects the city to get about $30,000 for its airport.

Hansen said the money the city receives must be spent on needed expenses resulting from the public health emergency due to COVID-19, and it cannot be spent on things the city had previously planned to spend money on that was established prior to March 27.

Of the more than $8 million, those expenses must take place between March 1 and Dec. 30, 2020. That money be spent on medical expenses, public health expenses, including PPE and disinfecting facilities, as well as limited payroll expenses and actions to make complying with COVID-19 public health measures easier, such as food delivery and telework capabilities.

“At this point in time, the funding cannot be used to offset our revenue shortfalls,” Hansen said. “There are some additional stimulus bills making their way through at the federal level that would allow for that funding to be used to cover revenue shortfalls or to change the language of the CARES Act,” Hansen said, “but that is still making its way through federal legislation at this point, so it’s still up in the air.”

Hansen said a process is being developed to review all requests to use the money and ensure that they are being spent with established guidelines and rules taken into account. City staff is “paying very particular attention to what we can and can’t spend it on,” Hansen said, “as it will have to be returned if it’s spent inappropriately, and we want to avoid that.”

Councilman Mike Duman asked whether any of the money could be used for additional COVID-19 testing. He also asked for a monthly update on how the money is being spent.

City Manager Patrick Roberts said he and city staff would provide periodic updates to council as able, but said certain issues may hinder that effort. He said he would provide a update to council in the next 30 days if it can finalize a plan.

“We don’t believe we’ve received full guidance yet on how to develop a plan,” Roberts said, “but as that evolves, we will develop a plan and bring it back to City Council, with periodic updates. … You should anticipate that we will plan to reimburse the city for unplanned expenditures related to the pandemic to date. Those are fairly small in scale, but otherwise, in terms of spending the full $8 million to $10 million, we’ll update City Council periodically.”