HARTFORD – The Office of Policy and Management plans to distribute $45.5 million in CARES funding to Connecticut municipalities within the week.
In a press conference on Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont explained that the state decided to allocate these funds directly to municipalities because the Federal Emergency Management Agency has yet to reimburse claims for aid.
“FEMA’s a little slow about making their payments, to be blunt about it,” said Lamont. “They haven’t made a payment, I’m told, in this fiscal year.”
The $45.5 million will reimburse COVID-related expenses incurred between July 1 and Dec. 30 of 2020, according to a recent letter sent to municipal leaders by OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw. The funding comes in addition to $14.5 million in CARES Act funding used to reimburse municipalities for COVID expenses through June 30.
According to federal regulations, all CARES Act funding must be earmarked for a specific purpose by the end of the calendar year. The money can be used to pay for cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, food programs, distance learning support, hazard pay for public employees and shelter costs, among other things.
How the money is distributed by the Office of Policy and Management is based on a calculation of population, population density and municipal wealth.
So far, Connecticut has allocated significantly less money for municipalities than other states, according to Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. DeLong was initially critical of that relative shortfall.
Federal guidance calls for states to set aside 45 percent of coronavirus relief funds for towns and cities, which would have amounted to $630 million for Connecticut. Instead, the state set aside $75 million – about 5.5 percent of the $1.382 billion total – for municipalities. But DeLong said that the state has also picked up a significant number of costs that other states left to municipalities, including testing, which has cost the state about $230 million in federal money.
“Certainly, towns and cities could use another round of Coronavirus relief to make up for things like lost revenues, but as far as the expenses that this money is eligible for, I think the state has allocated an appropriate amount for cities and towns,” DeLong said.
DeLong said that treasury rules, not the state government, were responsible for problems related to reimbursing unbudgeted costs related to the COVID pandemic.
Initially, eligible costs didn’t include overtime for public safety personnel if that overtime was already budgeted, even if it was directly related to COVID response. Treasury later expanded guidelines to include both overtime and payroll costs of public health and safety personnel whose work had substantially changed since the budget was last approved.
In addition to the $60 million given to municipalities in the first round of reimbursements and the upcoming disbursement, Connecticut set aside $15 million from the $75 million municipal fund to pay for COVID testing for teachers and school staff. DeLong said OPM added money to the municipal fund to cover the $15 million allocation for testing teachers.
Chris McClure, Spokesman for OPM, said that they decided to allocate the $15 million for testing separately because it was “more efficient” for the state to acquire and distribute the necessary supplies.
“For the most part, we feel that was allocated appropriately,” DeLong said.