By Conrad Dudderar
Canadian County Commissioners are considering significant pandemic aid through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which would provide $28 million that Canadian County is entitled to receive.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden in March. Some $130 billion has been allocated to counties across the U.S.
The act is designed to speed up the United States’ recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing recession.
If commissioners decide to move forward, federal funds will be distributed in two tranches – $14 million available now and the other $14 million in spring 2022.
The Floyd Law Firm in Norman has offered to serve as Canadian County’s legal advisor for the federal economic relief program. Attorney David Floyd spoke to county commissioners about the American Rescue Plan Act during their weekly meeting July 6.
“The money is available to be used in four specific categories,” Floyd told commissioners.
The attorney summarized these categories:
- To respond to the negative economic impacts and public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and to be prepared for any future pandemics.
- To provide premium pay for essential employees who undertook required public health-related work during the pandemic.
- Restoration of lost revenues for any negative tax impact due to lower economic activity.
- Upgrades and improvements to Internet broadband, water and sewer infrastructure.
The amount each county has been allocated was determined based on factors including population, COVID-19 financial impact and unemployment rate.
Floyd explained the purpose of this economic recovery plan – to ensure any ongoing economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are dealt with and to prepare for future pandemics.
“We don’t know when the next pandemic will be, but at some point, we’re going to be in a situation like this again,” he added. “The funds can be used for preparedness for that, to make sure that next time we have in place some of the critical infrastructure and health care infrastructure necessary to mitigate those effects.”
Floyd recently met with Canadian County Commission Chairman Jack Stewart after commissioners this spring first discussed participating in the funding plan.
“Since we had that discussion back in May, I don’t know how many entities have come to me and said, ‘take it’ … they want to be a piece of it,” Stewart said.
The county board chair has heard interest from the Central Oklahoma Water Resource Authority, City of Yukon, Canadian County Health Department, and Central Oklahoma Workforce Investment Board.
All Canadian County communities could use funds to improve their water treatment systems and rural areas (like north Piedmont) need more broadband Internet, according to District 1 Commissioner Marc Hader.
This program could reimburse Canadian County for the waterline installed to serve the county’s new expo center, he added.
Commissioners hope to use some funds to recoup lost revenue for county road projects.
“Even if it’s $1 million, for us that’s a huge amount of money for our roads,” Chairman Stewart said.
TRACKING THE FUNDS
The Floyd Law Firm is working with other counties participating in the federal program to help establish best practices, develop a plan to distribute funds and meet reporting requirements.
The U.S. Treasury Department recently published compliance and reporting guidance that American Rescue Plan Act fund recipients should follow.
“They are strongly suggesting that you do a comprehensive needs assessment to take into account all the entities in Canadian County, the municipalities, the nonprofits, to see exactly where there are needs and how they can best be met,” Floyd said. “Use that needs assessment to put together your comprehensive plan. And then put in place best practices and procedures to track exactly who’s receiving these funds, how much they receive, what they use it for, and how it fits into one of these four categories.”
Other counties are using this program to help private industries impacted by COVID-19 by “making them whole” and prepared for future pandemics, Floyd told Canadian County officials.
“You’re seeing grants to businesses to support their ability to go virtual,” he said. “To put in the infrastructure so, next time around, they have things in place to conduct business remotely.
“You’re seeing people doing expansions in the health infrastructure so that, next time, we have vaccination clinics set up and we have the ability to provide PPE (personal protective equipment) quickly. So, we don’t have to have the long lines and waits we saw last time.”
Attorney Lynne Driver of the Floyd Law Firm said the list of items that Canadian County could fund through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will be considerably larger than commissioners might realize.
Driver recommended the county have a comprehensive plan in place – although it is not required for this program.
“At the end of the day, you have to make sure that the money has been spent correctly,” Driver advised commissioners. “Or you run into a risk of having to pay it back. That would be our ultimate goal – to make sure there is no risk there.”
Professional and legal fees incurred by the county may be paid under the act.
“It is a big undertaking,” Driver added. “Smaller counties and smaller cities just don’t have the administrative staff to handle some of these things.”
Chairman Stewart said Canadian County would otherwise have to hire “at least one if not more than one additional staff” to administer this large program.
District 2 County Commissioner Dave Anderson thanked the Floyd Law Firm for letting commissioners know what the funds can and cannot be used for.
“That’s helpful to start the discussion,” Anderson said.