Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse on Tuesday announced estimated funds to be allocated to Eagle County from the American Rescue Plan, the comprehensive COVID-19 relief legislation which was signed March 11 by President Joe Biden.
Eagle County is set to receive $11 million in direct stabilization funds from the bill, with Vail receiving an additional $1.1 million, Avon an additional $1.3 million, the town of Eagle an additional $1.5 million, Gypsum $1.58 million and Minturn $250,000.
While county officials welcome the federal dollars, they don’t exactly know how to spend them yet.
“There are four very broad categories that were established for how we can spend that money,” said Eagle County Finance Director Jill Klosterman. “We are trying not to spend too much time allocating the money into those categories because we don’t know all the rules yet. We haven’t been told how we can spend this funding.”
The federal relief funds can be used in response to negative impacts of the pandemic, hazard pay for employees who performed essential work, stabilizing revenue reductions that resulted in services being cut back and infrastructure improvements.
Without knowing all the guidelines, Klosterman noted the county may be able to use the federal money to reimburse its general fund for dollars spent on the local COVID-19 bridge grant program. Officials are also interested to learn the specifics of the infrastructure funding options.
“One of the intents is to put people to work,” she said. “We would want to do a couple of big projects that would be meaningful to the community. We are open to exploring any eligible uses. We just want to know what the rules are before we commit to anything.”
Local municipal governments are still assessing what they might be able to do with the new funding. But Vail Mayor Dave Chapin said the town welcomes “any money we can get at any time.”
Chapin noted towns, including Vail, seemingly always have financial needs, whether for unintended consequences of existing policies or things that pop up.
Chapin noted that many businesses continue to operate under occupancy and other restrictions.
“We’re not out of this yet,” Chapin said. “There are still going to be some businesses that are slow to get back up to full production.”
Chapin added that he’d like to help people as much as possible.
Federal assistance to help with everything from rent or utility payment aid to bolstering inventory at local food banks is welcome.
Vail Town Manager Scott Robson, in an email, wrote it’s still “too early” to identify best uses for the money. But, he added, town officials will look into covering more than $400,000 in COVID-19 relief that wasn’t covered by previous funding from the federal CARES Act.
Robson noted that the Vail Town Council may want to look into preserving the new federal funding for future relief efforts, public health initiatives, economic stimulus or “special marketing efforts.”
Gypsum Town Manager Jeremy Rietmann, in an email, wrote that town officials in Gypsum are waiting for further guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department about best uses for the funds before writing any checks.
Avon Town Manager Eric Heil wrote, “All the town of Avon can say right now is that we are researching the eligibility requirements and attending information webinars as they are offered.”
Heil added he expects the town to receive its federal funds in pieces, with half sent by late May, and the other half in 2022.
Money for schools
As part of the $1.2 billion awarded to the state for emergency relief for K-12 schools, the Eagle County School District is estimated to receive a total of $3,639,000 in relief funding from legislation passed in Congress.
According to Sandy Mutchler, the district’s chief operating officer, Eagle County Schools has received two rounds of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds to date. This includes ESSER I funds of $488,657 and ESSER II funds of $1.7 million, both of which have been allocated to support COVID-related expenditures and small cohort instruction. Mutchler said the district does not yet know the amount that will be allocated as ESSER III funds by the American Rescue Plan, but that the money will support interventions and credit recovery to support student achievement per the requirements of the funding.
The Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education does have specific parameters set for the ESSER funds.
These parameters dictate that at least 20 percent of the funds must address learning loss with interventions that respond to student’s social, emotional and academic needs. Additional uses for the funds can include improving indoor air quality, training and professional development on minimizing the spread of infectious diseases, addressing the needs of underrepresented student subgroups, purchasing educational technology, providing mental health services and more.
“There have been significant costs associated with operating during the pandemic and meeting the COVID requirements and COVID restrictions,” said Dan Dougherty, the chief communications officer for the district. “Without those emergency funds, we would have had to cover all of those expenses from operational funds, which would have had a significant negative impact on our school district.”
Rietmann also noted there were strings attached to the money. He forwarded information from the National League of Cities about some of them.
Among those restrictions is responding to the public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes “assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality.”
The bill also allows “premium pay” for eligible workers in state and local governments, and allows governments to spend funds on “water, sewer or broadband infrastructure.”
Coloradans, including dependents, will also receive $1,400 stimulus checks, an extension in unemployment benefits until Sept. 6, and an expanded Child Tax Credit through the legislation.
The American Rescue Plan also expands the Economic Disaster Injury Loan and Payroll Protection Program programs and allocates funds to a Restaurant Revitalization Fund to help local businesses in Eagle County and elsewhere weather the economic impacts of the pandemic.
For more on these programs, and for details on applying, go to SBA.gov.
“In April (2020), I introduced legislation to ensure that every local city and county in Colorado had the relief funds they needed to weather the pandemic,” said Neguse, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Vail, Minturn, Red Cliff and parts of EagleVail and Avon. “This proposal was built out of conversations with mayors and county commissioners across our state whose local budgets had been gutted by the pandemic and resulting expenses. After months of advocacy, our proposal for direct local stabilization funds was included in the American Rescue Plan and signed into law by President Biden. Our cities and towns have been knocked down by this pandemic, and we cannot expect them to weather this storm alone. These funds will provide critical relief to towns and counties across Colorado to ensure they can continue vital government operations, and keep their residents safe.”
Ali Longwell and Pam Boyd contributed reporting to this story.