As Gov. Tim Walz begins distributing funds from the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, small communities such as Medford are trying to quickly form a plan on how to put those funds to best practice.
City Administrator Andy Welti told the Medford City Council during its regular meeting Monday that the city will receive $96,737 – all of which must be spent by Nov. 15. He said that any unspent funds must then be sent to Steele County, which will then return that money to the state.
“The city must follow federal guidelines in spending the funds,” Welti said. “The funds may only be used to cover costs that are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to [COVID-19], were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of Mar. 27, 2020, and were incurred during the period the begins on Mar. 1, 2020, and ends on Dec. 30, 2020.”
While CARES-eligible expenses include payroll, medical, actions to facilitate compliance with COVID-19 related-health measures and any other COVID-19 related expenses reasonably necessary to the function of the government, one of the key areas the dollars can be spent is in economic support of the community’s small businesses.
“The city has incurred expenses for sanitization supplies, [personal protective equipment], and germ barriers for elections. At this time the city’s expenses are minimal,” Welti said, adding that the city will also likely seek reimbursement for unemployment insurance. “The city will likely be able to provide grants to help businesses within Medford city limits and purchase pandemic related supplies for the Fire Department.”
Welti said that the plan is to develop a small business relief fund grant program using the CARES Act dollars to help stimulate the businesses which may have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. He said that the program will like be administered through the city’s Economic Development Authority.
“We will contact businesses to make sure they are aware of the program and then likely get the applications out to them so they can submit it toward the end of September,” Welti said. “We would like to award the grants in October.”Welti said that the process will prove to be a challenge for cities as they are not set up to distribute grant funds. He said that they will need to develop the administration, application and guidelines – and that all of it will have to come into place quickly.
“The CARES Act funds is definitely welcomed and the city appreciates the state and federal governments for providing the funding,” Welti said. “But it is going to be a challenge for us to administer. But with that said, it is a significant benefit to small business in our community that have incurred costs related to the pandemic.”
Welti anticipates that the program come before the council for a vote next month.