Jackson County considers pandemic funds options

By Jeff Fox jeff.fox@examiner.net

Officials are looking at plans to spend the last of the federal money available to Jackson County for pandemic relief.

County Administrator Troy Schulte this week told county legislators that the money has to be spent or committed by Dec. 31, though there is some sense that Congress might push the deadline back to March or even later in 2021.

“We should know more in the next couple weeks,” he said.

The county got $122.7 million under the CARES Act passed last spring, and it has spent or passed along $96.87 million. For instance, $45.2 million has gone to cities, schools and libraries for everything from police overtime related to the pandemic to Wifi hotspots to help community college students doing their studies online.

The county has $25.87 yet to commit: $8.8 million that’s undesignated, $7 million for a new county Health Department facility – a plan now delayed – and $10 million held out for contingencies.

And the county itself keeps incurring COVID costs. Schulte said he’ll be asking for supplemental spending for testing at the Detention Center.

“We’re now into weekly testing at the jail, and it’s costing us roughly $100,000 a week to do 1,000 tests for those employees, but we’ve got to get COVID out of the jail,” he said.

The federal government has decided that sheriff, corrections and medical examiner costs fall under the heading of first responders, so CARES ACT money could go for those, a step the county hasn’t yet taken, Schulte said.

Legislator Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs, pointed to a gap in COVID-19 testing on weekends.

She said a constituent needed a test at mid-afternoon on a Saturday and struck out with three of Eastern Jackson County’s hospitals – Centerpoint, St. Mary’s and Saint Luke East. Finally, he was directed to a site to sign up at the stroke of midnight for the following day, got an appointment – but didn’t didn’t get the test for another three hours beyond that. 

“So my point is we’ve got some process issues here, with COVID testing on a weekend, having to go through all this red tape to get something going,” Lauer said. “And in the meantime, the individual is sick and not feeling well, and all that sort of thing. So what can we do to help with that with the money we have?”

Schulte said Truman Medical Centers is offering tests on weekdays and he could talk with it about possibly adding Saturdays. 

Legislator Jalen Anderson, D-Blue Springs, said some locally owned businesses are struggling, even with issues such as providing masks, and he wondered if the county could help out.

“I think it’s a conversation we can have,” said Legislature Chair Theresa Cass Galvin, R-Lee’s Summit.

The county’s CARES Act spending so far also has included:

• $32.35 million for Truman Medical Centers – $5.3 million for operations and equipment and $27.04 million for capital expenses to gear up for the pandemic caseload.

• $5.05 million by the county Health Department for contact tracing. 

• $4.45 million for county operations aside from the Health Department.

• $455,000 for emergency housing.

• $1.3 million to address food insecurity – $500,000 to Harvesters and the rest other agencies.

• $3.4 million for Swope Health Services.

• $1.16 million for KC CARE.

• $1.02 millon for the Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center in Kansas City.

• $1.5 million to address evictions and foreclosures.