With a stroke of a pen, $1,400 stimulus checks were deposited into many Americans’ bank accounts, as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden last week.
A pot of federal funds will soon be handed down to Hall County municipalities, which will use the next few years to identify what pandemic-affected sectors will benefit from the incoming cash flow.
Under the American Rescue Plan, a total of $350 billion in assistance is on its way to states, counties, cities and tribal governments to help recoup losses and bounce back from downturns suffered in the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to estimates published on March 8 by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Georgia is slated to receive $8.3 billion of it.
Direct aid for local governments could be available as late as May 10, as the U.S. Department of Treasury has 60 days within the bill’s March 11 enactment to issue funds to local governments.
The second stage of American Rescue Plan funds, reserved for cities with population sizes 50,000 or less, could be delivered by March 2022.
Hall County, the 10th-largest county in Georgia, will receive an estimated $39.6 million in federal funds from the plan.
Most local government officials in Hall County have told The Times that they are still waiting for further information about federal regulations for what can and cannot be covered under the incoming relief aid.
“As we learn more and are able to finalize the process for using these funds, we will make sure that information is made available to the public,” said Katie Crumley, Hall County spokesperson. “That being said, we do not have the level of detail available to us to answer questions (regarding funding) at this time.”
While the American Rescue Plan and the CARES Act passed under former President Donald Trump are in the same ballpark funding-wise, there are some differences between the two plans.
Under the American Rescue Plan, all local governments will receive funding directly from the U.S. Treasury. In the CARES Act, the Treasury directly provided funds to counties and municipalities with a population size of 500,000 plus.
Additionally, states under the CARES Act were allowed to determine how to allocate funding to local governments; in the latest plan, each local government’s funding amount is based on population data from the most recent Census.
These are a few “eligible uses” for local governments, as laid out in the American Rescue Plan:
local public health or economic sectors negatively impacted by COVID-19, including heavily impacted tourism, travel and hospitality industries. Additionally, funding can be used to assist small businesses, nonprofits and housing trusts.
Cities can provide premium pay to city and state employees deemed essential during the pandemic. Additionally, grants can be eligible for private employers that have utilized essential workers throughout the pandemic.
Municipalities can use funds to address “reduced” revenue suffered in government services during the most recent full fiscal year due to COVID-19.
Funds can be used to make improvements to broadband, sewer and water utilities.
Funds must be spent by Dec. 31, 2024.
When The Times contacted the U.S. Treasury, officials said that the department is “working on providing guidance” to local governments on what the funds can be used for and how to draw down funds.
For cities with less than 50,000 residents, there is a cap on federal aid allocation of 75% of their pre-pandemic budgets.
The only entitlement community -- cities having a population over 50,000 as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development -- in Hall County is Gainesville.
BraseltonBraselton is estimated to receive $4,083,554 from the American Rescue Plan.
While non-entitlement communities like Braselton will need to wait a whole year for their funding slice, Braselton’s town clerk, Jennifer Scott, told The Times that Braselton might be in a “good position” to address business affected by COVID-19 and infrastructure.
“We have a while until we get into those discussions,” Scott said. “However, we will get a full picture of how we can use these funds once all the details are presented us.”
Buford is estimated to receive roughly $4.8 million, with a population of 15,522.
“The Buford City Commission will be working to utilize available funding in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 in furtherance of measures to help mitigate and prevent the spread of COVID-19 and assist Buford in its continuing recovery efforts,” said Buford City Manager Bryan Kerlin.
Clermont is estimated to receive $327,352 under the plan.
Flowery Branch is estimated to receive roughly $2.6 million.
Bill Andrew, Flowery Branch city manager, said that the city is still in the process of “figuring out” and “sifting through federal regulations” to gauge how to use their funds.
At the Flowery Branch City Council meeting on March 18, Andrew discussed where the city could direct its federal funds, like water and sewer projects.
“So right now, the city on paper is due for $2.6 million … and staff is endeavoring to find out where to use the money under federal regulation,” he said. “But it does seem fairly clear that water and sewer work would be eligible to direct relief funding.”
Gillsville is slated to receive Hall County’s smallest funding allocation, as it is projected an allocation of $75,616.
The city of Gainesville will receive $11.9 million and City Manager Bryan Lackey said that while the city is awaiting guidance from the Treasury, city staff is having conversations on the best ways to use the funds.
“In the meantime, city staff along with the City Council members are thinking through how to best get these federal funds back into the hands of the citizens and taxpayers in the city of Gainesville,” Lackey said.
Lula has a projected allocation of $932,907.
B.R. White, Oakwood city manager, said that city officials are “beginning to take a look at their budget” and where the incoming funds can best be utilized.
“Nothing specific has been identified as of yet,” White said. “We are just now beginning to take a look at where we have had the most impacts to our budget and greatest reserves drawdown.”