County ramps up efforts, spending $21.8M of federal COVID-19 relief funds in August

After spending just $4.4 million of its $80 million federal coronavirus relief allotment from March through July, Hawaii County has stepped up its game and in August reported $21.8 million in expenditures.

The bulk of the money, $19.3 million, went to recovery initiatives, including $14 million for small business and nonprofit grants for COVID-19 impacts, $4.3 million for individual rent and mortgage assistance and $750,000 for individual nongovernmental utility assistance, said Deputy Finance Director Steven Hunt on Tuesday.

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Business grants can be used for “financial obligations including but not limited to rent, leases, mortgage, vehicle lease, master supply agreements, non-governmental utilities and reopening costs,” according to the county. Money in the other categories is paid directly to the mortgage company, landlord or utility, rather than the individual.

Proposals go through a three-phase procedure using quantitative ranking, according to the county. First, a two-person team will screen the applications to ensure all required information is provided. The proposal then goes to an evaluation committee that will assign points in various categories and create a priority list that then goes to the director of the Department of Research and Development.

With a Dec. 30 “use it or lose it” deadline, the county is scrambling to get money out fast. The government is working with credit unions and other financial institutions to help disburse the smaller amounts, in order to expedite the process.

“We monitored it very carefully; we’re right on track to make sure the money stays here on this island,” said Mayor Harry Kim on Tuesday.

He referred back to the public works projects the United States used to pull people out of the Great Depression. People had to accept work to get the money, but “life was simpler back then,” he said.

“I’ve never seen the federal government respond with this kind of monies, ever,” Kim said.

Despite the urgency in getting the money spent, the county is still adhering to procurement laws, officials say.

“We do get audited for our expenditures,” Hunt said, adding, “We’re monitoring the recipients to make sure they stay on track.”

Other expenditures were $2.7 million for public safety. That includes overtime expenses because of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as personal protective equipment, disinfectant, sanitizer, face masks, face shields, gloves, foggers and costs for lifeguards at Hapuna and Paradise Park and Emergency Medical Services.

Among the expenses in the $2.1 million for community assistance are food assistance, child care, community and family resilience programs and outreach programs.

Administrative expenses took up $1.6 million last month.

Hunt said County Council members submitted their lists of how to spend $100,000 each after the council voted to give themselves the power to do so.

The council grants don’t have to go out to bid, but they must follow federal procurement rules as well as the specific rules under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

They must be used to pay necessary expenditures incurred because of the COVID-19 public health emergency, addressing medical or public health needs, as well as expenditures incurred to respond to second-order effects of the emergency such as by providing economic support to those suffering from employment or business interruptions because of coronavirus-related business closures.

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Hunt said council members submitted requests for more money to be granted to some groups that didn’t get the full amount they asked for, requests for groups that scored high in the procurement process but didn’t receive any money and at least one that would be considered a sole source provider subject to different procurement laws.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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