Dems' recovery funds hit Orange County
Last updated 6/8/2021 at 10:20pm
Joe Biden’s American Recovery Plan Act, passed by Congress without a single Republican vote, just showered ruby red Orange County with the first of two $8.1 million payments.
The all-Republican County Commissioners are eager to see what they’re allowed to use it for.
After Tuesday’s twice-monthly Commissioners Court meeting, County Judge John Gothia asked Tim Funchess, county purchasing agent, to put an item on the June 22 agenda to start the process to hire a grant manager to ensure the money was used appropriately.
“Too bad it’s not the $15 million we’re waiting for from the debris removal,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Robert Viator said.
The county has spent about $15 million – mostly from its reserves – for debris removal after Hurricane Laura last summer and hasn’t received a penny of the reimbursement promised by FEMA.
Early in Tuesday’s meeting, Gothia said he’d called U.S. Representative Brian Babin and pleaded for him to do all he could to speed up FEMA reimbursement with another Gulf Coast hurricane season having started June 1 and another budget year set to begin in October.
The county paid a total of $3.2 million in bills for the week of June 8, with $2.5 million of that for debris removal and monitoring through January.
Joel Ardoin, county emergency management coordinator, asked for approval to spend $17,400 of undesignated “contingency” funds to repair a video system that was nearly 20 years old in the county’s Emergency Operations Center.
It was out of order and the source of minor embarrassment when President Donald Trump visited the EOC after Hurricane Laura.
To replace the system would cost $268,000, Ardoin said.
Gothia wondered out loud if the county could use the ARPA funds for the $17,400 fix … then considered the possibility of replacing the entire system.
ARPA was a $1.9 trillion fiscal recovery plan signed into law by President Biden March 11. It established a $350 billion Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which includes $65.1 billion to all counties nationwide, based on population.
Texas’ 254 counties are to receive about $5.7 billion.
The funds will be distributed half in 2021 and half a year later, meaning Orange County is due another $8.1 million in ARPA funds in 12 months.
No final rules have been released defining acceptable uses for ARPA funds, but 151 pages of “proposed rules” were published in May.
According to Texas Association of Counties, local governments can use the funds to support public health response to the coronavirus pandemic, address negative economic effects caused by COVID-19 by providing assistance to workers and families, small business and industries hit hard by the pandemic.
It can be used to replace lost public sector revenue, provide premium pay – up to $13 per hour – for workers performing essential work during the pandemic, or invested in water and sewer or broadband infrastructure.