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Cuyahoga County Set To Spend Federal Coronavirus Aid By Year-End Deadline

Cuyahoga County received $215 million from the federal government to handle COVID-19 expenses. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Cuyahoga County received $215 million from the federal government to handle COVID-19 expenses.

Cuyahoga County is on track to spend the remainder of its coronavirus aid by the federal government’s Dec. 30 deadline, County Executive Armond Budish said Monday.

County government received $215 million in pandemic relief from the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, using the funds to buy protective equipment, refit county buildings for social distancing, equip employees to work from home and assist renters and business owners.

“One of the challenges the county faces is trying to get these dollars out by the end of the year,” said William Tarter Jr., a public policy associate at the Center for Community Solutions who watches the county’s budget closely.

As local governments faced down the deadline for exhausting the aid, they also tried to lobby the federal government for more leeway in how it could be spent.

The U.S. Treasury Department didn’t allow local governments to make up for lost revenue with CARES Act funds. But in guidance issued in September, it permitted paying public safety and health workers with the aid.

That gave the Cuyahoga County more clarity on how it could spend money set aside for employees, Budish said, allowing his administration to end the year on better financial footing than with the $76 million budget shortfall due to the coronavirus that was projected in May.

“We knew what we needed to come up with to deal with our budget hole,” he said, “and thankfully, the Treasury came through with an interpretation that allowed us to do that.”

The county allocated about $103 million for eligible employees, including $14.5 million for medical care at the county jail and almost $64.7 million for the sheriff’s office. That’s more than half of the sheriff’s office’s annual budget, Tarter pointed out in a blog post last month.

Cuyahoga County also directed aid toward economic and housing assistance, including a business stabilization program, $5 million to stave off evictions, $2 million for utility help and about $7.4 million to provide hotel rooms and medical care for the county’s homeless.

“It was never enough money,” Budish said. “We have thousands of requests for help from small business and renters that we couldn’t satisfy. But we did help a lot of people.”

Without more state and local aid from Congress, the county will have limited room to handle additional pandemic expenses next year, the Budish said.

Even before the pandemic swept the country, Cuyahoga County sought more tax dollars for health and human services programs. That money, approved by voters in April, will start to flow into county coffers next year — meaning the county will have to balance long-term health spending while facing the short-term challenges of the pandemic, Tarter said.

“There is still a lot that’s unknown about how long this is going to continue,” Tarter said, “and so how best can the county, the state, the federal government meet the health and human services needs of the area as the pandemic continues to affect daily life?”

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.