Garfield County CARES spending has mostly gone to community relief efforts, staffing support for response
Garfield County government is nearing $2 million spent to date in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, but much of that is expected to be covered by federal CARES Act funding.
The county and its six municipal governments are eligible for up to $5.2 million in federal reimbursement for costs related to the pandemic response.
The county itself, which has taken lead on several fronts — namely the official public health response — is due to receive $2.1 million, County Manager Kevin Batchelder said.
Early on, when the coronavirus outbreak hit locally in March and April, county finance officials estimated $2.5 million would likely be spent from county coffers in response to the crisis.
As of the end of June, the tally was about $1.6 million and growing by the week, Batchelder said.
“Hopefully we will get most, if not all of that amount reimbursed,” he said. “We also might not spend all of what we were projecting to spend in total.”
The majority of the county’s relief spending, $940,000 to date, has come in the form of various public assistance grants to area nonprofit human service organizations, and through the county Department of Human Services.
Of that amount, $440,000 was in the form of grants to organizations such as LIFT-UP for its food distribution program, Meals on Wheels, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, the Family Resource Center, the River Center in New Castle, and to the Aspen Community Foundation.
County commissioners also allocated $500,000 to the Department of Human Services for general emergency assistance outside of the county’s existing welfare programs.
About $382,000 of that was used up until the July 20 deadline to help people with rent and other emergency household expenses for which other programs are not available or they did not qualify. The emergency assistance program has now ended, but disaster and temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) are still available for those who are eligible.
Batchelder said the county has also been tracking the number of hours county employees have devoted to COVID-related efforts. Through June, that had amounted to about $790,000 in terms of wages, he said.
About half of that will be covered through outside funding other than CARES dollars, especially as it relates to health and human service hours, Batchelder said.
There’s also a separate fund to deal with the portion of Garfield County Public Health’s expenses related to contact tracing for the more than 550 positive COVID-19 cases in the county, through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Epi and Laboratory Capacity (ELC) program, the county manager explained.
That, too, is a federal pass-through, he said. “It helps increase our public health capacity and work force, and we are using it to increase our epidemiology staff and contact tracers,” Batchelder said.
The county can also tap into its $3.5 million emergency reserve fund, which is a requirement of the state’s TABOR laws to keep on hand for emergency purposes, he added.
“That’s been used in the past for wildfires,” Batchelder said, adding the sheriff has that spending authority. However, any first responder expenses directly related to the pandemic response could be included among the CARES requests, he said.
Each of the county’s six municipalities have opted in to receive federal CARES Act reimbursement, which is being handled through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
Separate CARES funding was set aside for special districts, such as local fire and metropolitan (water, sewer, parks, etc.) districts.
School districts, which also had significant expenses related to the switch to remote instruction when school buildings were shut down in the spring, also received CARES funding through the Colorado Department of Education.
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