By Carol Vaughn —
Accomack County received its first of two payments resulting from the federal American Rescue Plan Act Wednesday.
The county’s share of funding is nearly $6.3 million, with half coming now and the other half in a year.
The Accomack County Board of Supervisors will hold a town hall-style meeting Wednesday, June 2, at 6 p.m., at Metompkin Elementary School in Parksley to receive public comment about potential uses for the money.
Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason gave an overview of the government’s rules for allowable uses of the money, noting the guidance, which came out May 10, is an interim rule.
The final rule is open for public comment at present and some details could change, he said.
The American Rescue Plan established the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (CSLFRF) which provide $350 billion in emergency funding for eligible state, local, territorial, and tribal governments. The money is intended to support COVID-19 response efforts; replace lost public sector revenue to support vital public services and help retain jobs; support immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses; and address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the unequal impact of the pandemic on certain populations, according to the presentation.
The last day for the recovery funds to a locality to be obligated is Dec. 31, 2024, and all funds must be spent and work completed by Dec. 31, 2026.
Among six “buckets” of allowable uses is to address the pandemic’s negative economic impacts — including by giving food, housing, cash, and other assistance to households and loans and grants to small businesses and non-profit organizations.
“We’ve heard some comments from the Foodbank before and we have provided assistance to the Foodbank, but certainly food, housing, cash, and other assistance to households is an eligible expense,” Mason said.
“One of the questions that came up (at a previous board meeting was) could the county provide these funds to volunteer fire and rescue companies to replace lost revenue. Based upon my read of the Treasury FAQ, you could, subject to certain restrictions,” he said.
Impacted industries specifically listed in the rule include the tourism, travel, and hospitality industries, Mason said.
“We’ve heard discussions from, in particular, the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce about some of the fairly drastic cuts they had to make because of lost revenue —something the board may want to think about when it’s first setting priorities,” he said.
Another allowable use is to support public health response, including by using funds to cover payroll and benefits for employees or units primarily dedicated to the COVID-19 response. Behavioral health care also falls under this use.
Mason noted that, unlike the CARES Act of last year, the American Rescue Plan Act allows localities to use the federal funds to replace lost public sector revenue.
According to a federal calculation, preliminary estimates show Accomack County lost $2.37 million due to the pandemic, according to Mason.
The federal money must be spent on certain types of government services, including maintenance or building of infrastructure.
Premium pay for essential employees also is a potential use.
Allowable equity-focused services include providing for new and expanded high-quality childcare, among other allowed uses for the funds.
Another area of allowable uses includes paying for water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.
The federal government encourages localities to fund broadband projects that can support 100Mbps or more download speed and at minimum 20 Mbps upload speed.
The rule treats users as being unserved or underserved if they lack access to a wireline connection capable of delivering at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds.
The rule encourages localities to prioritize support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, nonprofits, and cooperatives — “providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.”
Mason also told the board Rep. Elaine Luria chose a project to upgrade the Eastern Shore 911 communication system as one of 10 projects she will propose for federal community project funding.