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Use of ARPA funds explained to NCQC

By Staff, 12/16/21 10:42 AM

PRESCOTT – A special meeting of the Nevada County Quorum Court was held Wednesday afternoon to discuss how money from the American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) could and couldn’t be spent.

Lindsey Holman was on hand for the Association of Arkansas Counties, though she has her own lobbying firm. She told the court when she saw COVID coming she knew it would be a marathon and it gave her the opportunity to move back to Arkansas. She continued, saying normally this kind of government funding takes two or three years to get done, but this was done in three months during a presidential transition. Holman pointed out the US Treasury Department is working on a playbook for ARPA funds, but there’s no timeline on when it will be out, but it could be ready sometime in the first quarter of 2022.

Basically, she told the court, the money could be spent on anything COVID related, from salaries to supplies and equipment. According to Holman, the funds can be spent on anything supporting a public health response to the pandemic, such as a vaccination program or contact tracing, along with behavioral services, crisis intervention and mental health. Additionally, these funds can be spent to recuperate medical costs incurred by jails for inmates with COVID, along with members of the sheriff’s office staff who lost time due to COVID.

Holman said ARPA money differs from funds received from the CARES Act as those could be spent for literally anything, whereas there are strict regulations regarding how ARPA funds are used.

But, she continued, if the county cans how 50 percent of an employees time was COVID related, the county can be reimbursed for the expenses and time sheets won’t be required, though supervisors must provide affidavits stating this is true.

Holman threw the court a curve ball when she told the panel it needed to go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for reimbursements as well. Under the COVID protocols, she said this is 100 percent federal cost sharing, instead of the usual 75-25 percent deal with FEMA. This would mean more money coming into Arkansas for the federal mitigation program and any category B items are eligible. She pointed out the county would need to be careful and not “double dip” by trying to use ARPA funds, while also seeking FEMA assistance. The FEMA money, she said, is an untapped resource in Arkansas.

From there she hit the topic of premium pay, saying, double dipping is not allowed as a person can’t be paid twice for the same risks. FEMA is more specific and outlined, but is easier, she said, and covers things like personnel protection equipment, screening, cleaning, body storage, supply storage, medical care, the purchase and distribution of food in the community, and casualty management. By using FEMA money, she continued, it frees up ARPA funds. The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) should be able to help obtain FEMA money.

Holman suggested the county hire a consulting firm to help with the ARPA funds. She told the court up to 10 percent of the ARPA money could be used to pay a consultant, but suggested the county not go with any company on a flat rate basis, but, instead, hire someone with experience and has gone through a federal audit. A request for proposal (RFP) would be needed and the need for a consultant advertised. Holman said the county may need to partner with other cities in the counties for this, and possibly partner with other counties to make it more attractive for possible consultants.

She stressed the importance of being able to prove everything claimed for ARPA funds, saying improper procurement is the main reason the government would go for recoupment of funds. Consultants would help in this area as they have insurance to cover such situations.

On the topic of premium pay, Holman said all county employees are eligible, but there are limitations as to how much they can be paid. She suggested prioritizing the lowest paid employees first and going from there. Employees, she continued, can only be paid for the hours they worked in person either in the office or on site. They can’t be paid for time spent working from home or telecommuting. Holman said there’s nothing about premium pay for elected officials, adding they need to take political considerations into account as this could be seen negatively. She pointed out justices of the peace could receive premium pay, but would need to document the actual hours they spent working on county business.

She added the county needs to be conservative with its affidavits and recommended setting a cap for each period of time involved. Anyone exceeding the cap would not be paid for anything over the cap amount.

The county, she said, can pay third-party providers for COVID related work if they’re considered essential workers as identified by the federal government. She suggested avoiding this as much as possible as it’s a hassle with paperwork.  On the other hand, she said there are those who would qualify for negative economic impact as sub-recipients. These would include nonprofit agencies such as the senior adult center, Nevada County Rescue Unit and Master Gardeners, to name a few. However, she continued, a nonprofit cannot be subcontracted to run the sub-recipient program.

Members of the court asked about other items ARPA money could be used for, primarily computers and air conditioners. Holman said ventilation equipment can be purchased with ARPA funds, but computers can’t. She continued, saying there’s a bill in the US House of Representatives that would increase the flexibility of how ARPA money could be used, but it won’t pass this year, though it does have bi-partisan support and has already been approved by the US Senate.

When told the Nevada County Health Unit wants to expand its parking lot so it can provide drive-through services, Holman was ecstatic. She said community point of distribution is good and allowable as the NCHU could provide medical services to women and children.

The most important thing Holman told the court is the need to document everything and have a solid paper trail on how the money is spent

In closing, Holman talked about a massive influx of federal money coming to states as $42 billion has been set aside for improving broadband services in the country. Each state, she said, will receive at least $100 million,and those states with low service areas, such as Arkansas, will get even more.

While the meeting had been officially called to order, it was not properly adjourned and was, in fact, still in session when the court met later for its regular December meeting.