Southwest Missouri communities could receive millions in federal money from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, and some community leaders have recently launched preliminary discussions on how to spend it.

Carthage City Administrator Tom Short said the city has already prepared a separate fund in its accounting programs for the $2.72 million it is expecting, which will be distributed from the federal government in two equal payments, one within 90 days of the signing of the American Rescue Plan on March 10 and the second within a year of that date.

Carthage City Council Budget Committee Chairman Alan Snow said discussion is preliminary because the federal government has not issued specific instructions on how the money can be spent.

“The problem we have today is the Treasury Department still hasn’t issued guidelines,” Snow said. “There are some broad guidelines that say you can use it for broadband, you can use it for business recovery, you can use it for different things, but if we don’t spend it according to the Treasury guidelines, we have to pay it back.

“At least three times in one of the federal government documents it mentions that if it’s not done correctly the city has to repay the money,” Short added. “I just thought it was unusual that they would mention that three times. It’s the only thing they mentioned consistently going forward.”

Short said there are different options for spending the money, ranging from economic development to infrastructure to business and not-for-profit assistance.

First talks

The American Rescue Plan Act provides $130.2 billion in aid to local governments, including $19.5 billion specifically set aside for cities and counties with populations of less than 50,000.

Groups such as the National League of Cities and National Association of Counties have set up websites that can be used to find out how much federal money will go to specific cities.

According to the National League of Cities:

Joplin will get $14.78 million.

Neosho, $2.2 million.

Webb City, $2.23 million.

Carl Junction, $1.52 million.

Pittsburg, Kan., $2.8 million.

Miami, Okla., $2.1 million.

Other area cities, including Lamar and Anderson in Missouri and Baxter Springs, Galena and Columbus in Kansas, will each receive less than $1 million.

The National Association of Counties says Jasper County will get $23.5 million and Newton County will get $11.3 million. McDonald County will get $4.4 million; Lawrence County, $7.4 million; and Barton County $2.27 million.

Crawford County, Kansas, will get $7.5 million; Cherokee County, Kansas, will get $3.87 million; and Ottawa County, Oklahoma, will get $6 million.

‘A bunch of unknowns’

Jasper County Auditor Sara Hoover confirmed the amount of money the county will receive and agreed with Carthage officials in regard to instructions on how to spend it.

“There are just a bunch of unknowns ...,” Hoover said. “We know we’re getting roughly around $23 million. We know the money is to be used by Dec. 31, 2024. We know we’ll get half of it in a few weeks and the other half within a year. That’s about it.”

Hoover said Jasper County received about $14.2 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the first round of pandemic relief passed by Congress in March 2020, but this round of relief funds is different.

This time, the county gets more money, and the cities will each get money as well, meaning they don’t have to apply to the county to get money as happened with the CARES Act.

“Most of our money went to the municipalities and schools, and they’re all getting their own pot of money now,” Hoover said. “So who is responsible for passing through to small businesses? Is it the county’s obligation? Is it the municipality’s obligation? There’s uncertainty there about whether we make awards to small businesses or the cities.”

CARES Act winding down

Hoover said applications have been closed and the county has spent nearly $12 million of the $14.2 million it received from the CARES Act. Now county officials are looking at using the remaining $2.2 million to reimburse the county treasury for money spent the past year on extra expenses related to the pandemic.

According to Hoover, Jasper County handed out 91 grants between Sept. 10, 2020, and early April 2021 totaling $11,990,928. At first the county was told by the federal government it had to spend all of the $14.2 million in CARES Act money by the end of the year, but the federal government changed those rules in December and allowed counties to hold on to the balance and continue spending it.

“Going back to when we started the grant process, we tried our best to give everyone a chance to apply and gave them to the end of the year,” said Western District County Commissioner Darieus Adams. “We were granted an extension to apply the rest of the money to other needs, so we allowed entities to make new applications, but those have closed now. Our intent had been to focus on taking care of other people, then take care of the county’s needs, that’s what we wanted to do. Now our drop-dead date with the state is the end of June. That’s when we have to have the rest of the money spent.”

The bulk of the money — a little more than $9.1 million — went to the public schools in Jasper County, and a significant amount of the remainder went to the cities, including $1.2 million to Joplin, $195,000 to Carthage and smaller amounts to some of the smaller cities.

Other entities receiving funds included the Area Agency on Aging Region X, which got $60,669; the Community Clinic of Southwest Missouri, which got $78,494; and a number of private businesses, which received grants ranging from $60,400 for Baumann Enterprises LLC to $521.38 for Life Captured LLC. The smallest grant given was $274.93 to the Carl Junction Chamber of Commerce.

Adams said the county has spent $556,680 so far, primarily to support the Jasper County Health Department with extra employees and overtime during the pandemic.

He also said the Health Department also lost thousands of dollars in grant money for a variety of projects it handles during a normal year but just didn’t have the time to tackle while battling the pandemic.

The county also spent money converting the former Joplin Public Library on Main Street into courtrooms to keep court operating during the pandemic and allow for extra spacing that was not available in regular courtrooms.

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