WORTHINGTON — An estimated $4,084,350 is slated to be distributed to Nobles County, its cities and townships through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in the coming weeks.
While the funds will reimburse government entities for COVID-19 related expenses — everything from the purchase of hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment to staff overtime responding to community needs during the pandemic — a large portion of the money may end up in the hands of local businesses, including farmers.
Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson said he anticipates the county will receive its federal funding as soon as next week. Factored into the county’s estimated $2.7 million check are funds for cities and townships with populations less than 200 people. That means the cities of Kinbrae and Dundee, along with seven townships — Bloom, Grand Prairie, Larkin, Lismore, Little Rock, Olney and Wilmont — will need to apply to the county for its $25-per-capita distribution.
Johnson said the county has “done a very good job” documenting its COVID-19 related expenses and, with the exception of roughly $150,000 in overtime costs, less than $100,000 has been spent thus far. Of the general expenses, one of the largest costs was housing quarantined individuals who weren’t able to isolate in their home. Food and other necessities for quarantined individuals were also covered by the county.
“Community Services did a lot of running and services for people that were quarantined, whether they were in a hotel or home,” Johnson shared. “(Nobles County Community Services) got some funds from the Department of Human Services early, and I think that more than covered food and standard grocery stuff.”
Johnson said Nobles County commissioners will discuss how to distribute the county’s share of CARES Act funding during their Tuesday morning board meeting. He said some of the funds could be used to cover salaries for select county employees, including his own.
“My salary was budgeted, but I couldn’t do my regular job,” Johnson said. “We virtually focused on COVID for three months, and a lot of things fell by the wayside.”
While the county could opt to reimburse itself for Johnson’s job and select other county employees who focused primarily on COVID, he’s not so sure they’ll do so.
“Our revenues are way down and we cannot use (CARES Act money) for revenue replacement, and we cannot use it for property tax relief,” Johnson said.
Ultimately, Johnson wants to find a way to help local farmers and businesses in a manner that's both fair and consistent. There can be no double-dipping — meaning that a Worthington business can’t get CARES money from both the city of Worthington and Nobles County, or a farmer can’t get money from both its township and the county.
Johnson said the CARES money may mean the difference between a business keeping its doors open or shuttering.
“Keeping our businesses alive is the biggest single thing,” he said.
Worthington City Administrator Steve Robinson told The Globe for a June 24 story that the city only incurred about $20,000 to $30,000 in unexpected expenses as a result of COVID-19. However, Robinson said the city intends to direct a majority of its CARES funds to a business recovery grant program to help those impacted by mandatory shutdowns and loss of revenue.
The CARES Act money distributed to small cities and townships must be spent by Nov. 1 or be transferred back to the county for possible redistribution where it is needed most.
All cities and townships of 200 residents or more must submit their application for funds to the state, and the sooner the better.