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Jackson County to share $37 million in coronavirus CARES Act cash with nine cities

Kansas City Star logoKansas City Star 6/29/2020 By Mike Hendricks, The Kansas City Star

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said his city deserved $54.6 million of the $122.6 million in aid Jackson County received from the federal government to fight the coronavirus. He’ll have to settle for a little more than a third of that, the county legislature decided Monday.

The city of Independence put in a request for around $30 million, County Administrator Troy Schulte said, but will get closer to $7 million.

Months after refusing to authorize lump sum payments to cities based on population, the legislature, at the urging of County Executive Frank White, voted unanimously to write checks to the nine largest municipalities totaling $37 million.

But each city will get less than White suggested three weeks ago, in the measure sponsored by the legislature’s chairwoman, Theresa Galvin.

Instead of $27 million, as White had proposed, Kansas City’s share was cut to $19 million, some of which the city was already awarded. Blue Springs will get a little over $3 million. White had recommended $4.9 million.

But even at lesser amounts, cities will likely get the money quicker. Independence Mayor Eileen Weir complained publicly two weeks ago that the county needed to move faster and that the procedures for getting reimbursed for COVID-19 expenses were convoluted and constantly changing.

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“This is no way to do business,” she told legislators at the time.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said Monday that, while it’s not as much as he’d asked for, he’s pleased that the county is letting go of a large chunk of money and seems supportive of how the city intends to spend its share.

Some will go to help businesses that lost income during the long shutdown.

“We need to get something out there,” he said. “I’m happy to get something. One step at a time.”

To qualify for a lump sum, cities must provide a plan for spending the money and take financial responsibility should federal auditors later determine that the funds were misspent.

Their other option is to be reimbursed one expenditure at a time and let the county take care of the bookkeeping, which has been the policy since Jackson County received the federal money in April. The one difference is that each city is now guaranteed a certain amount, where before there was none set aside.

Kansas City officials were disappointed when the city failed to qualify for direct federal funding for COVID-19 costs under the CARES Act. Washington gave each state a pot of cash, based on population, to pay for the coronavirus response on the state and local levels, but also gave money directly to cities and counties with populations of 500,000 or more.

Kansas City fell 8,000 people shy. But Jackson County qualified with 700,000 residents, including 320,000 who reside in Kansas City.

The money is supposed to cover costs for testing, public hospitals, masks for emergency responders and other expenditures directly tied to fighting COVID-19 and the virus that causes the disease.

Rather than split the money among cities on a per capita basis, officials allocated more than $30 million to the county’s public hospital, Truman Medical Centers, and spent millions more on the county health department for testing and contact tracing, as well as personal protective equipment for public safety agencies.

The county awarded $2.8 million to the Kansas City health department a few weeks ago. That will amount was deducted from Kansas City’s $19 million allocation under the per capita plan.

White proposed lump-sum payments in early June after becoming frustrated with county legislators, who often disagreed with or ignored his suggestions on how best to spend the aid dollars.

Previously, his administration claimed that it would be irresponsible to write each community a check, as the county might have to repay the federal government if any of those funds were misspent.

But White changed course after continued run-ins with the legislature. For example, when he proposed spending $5 million on contact tracing by the county health department, legislators cut it to $1.5 million.

He was upset when the legislature decided without his agreement to give Truman Medical Centers $27 million in CARES Act funds back in May and refused to support the creation of a citizens advisory board, which White hoped would have made suggestions on how to spend the CARES Act money.

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©2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

Visit The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.) at www.kansascity.com

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