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How El Paso County plans to spend American Rescue Plan funds

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Posted at 5:39 AM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 10:01:11-04

EL PASO COUNTY — President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion stimulus package back in March, which includes $350 billion for state and local governments across the country they will be able to use in several ways to come out of the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury released the allocations and spending guidelines for the $5.7 billion that will be headed to Colorado and its local governments as part of the American Rescue Plan (ARPA).

Many counties and municipalities are still deciding what they will do with the money, but El Paso County leaders recently released plans on how they plan to spend the funds they receive.

In total, El Paso County is receiving nearly $140 million dollars from the American Rescue Plan. The money will come in two waves, half this spring and the other half around this time next year.

“I really appreciate that as El Paso County, we work hard to abide by our conservative principles. This is a lot of taxpayer dollars, and the first question we ask is how we can get it right back into their pockets, said Holly Williams, El Paso County Commissioner District 1. “This is a lot of money coming out of the federal government that someday our kids will have to pay for. We want to assure the public that this money is spent correctly, that we account for every penny, and at the end of the day, it is audited. We are very conservative and careful in the administration of this money.”

The county will have until the end of 2024 to use the funds. Funds allocated to large projects by 2024 can be spent on projects finished by the end of 2026.

The way the funds will be used is based on federal guidelines, which include: support for the ongoing response and recovery from COVID-19, economic impact, supplement government revenue, invest in infrastructure, and pay for essential workers who could not work remote during the pandemic.

During a meeting on Tuesday, June 1, El Paso County Controller Nikki Simmons presented a preliminary plan for the allocation of APRA funding.

Fund allocations in detail:

  • $20 million for economic and workforce development. This is the largest portion allocated to support the economic recovery of small businesses and tourism industries that have suffered tremendously through this pandemic as well as strengthen our workforce through training and retraining programs for workers impacted by COVID.
  • $17 million for public safety response efforts to COVID/ COVID variants. This includes testing and quarantine costs as well as increased staffing, medical, and intake processing costs related to COVID.
  • $13 million for improving local water and stormwater infrastructure.
  • $10 million set aside to address future county needs.
  • $8 million for Public Health to address health equities and fill the gaps of other funding received for COVID response efforts.
  • $1 million for grant administration to provide monitoring and oversight of ARPA grant funding.

Back in March 2020, El Paso County also received money from the first major COVID-19 relief package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and. Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. Through the CARES Act, El Paso County received $125 million.

Through the CARES Act, the County was able to keep $83 million while $38 million went to Colorado Springs. The remaining money was distributed to smaller communities.

When the CARES Act was passed, federal funding had to be spent on expenses related to COVID-19 response, and could not be used to fill in government revenue shortfalls unrelated to the pandemic. However, the city of Colorado Springs was able to put some of that money toward the police or fire department's payroll.

"That allowed us, essentially, to move $20 million that we otherwise would have spent in 2020, to 2021," said Mayor John Suthers.

The General Fund Budget for 2021 saw a four percent increase when compared to the 2020 General Fund because of the money received by the CARES Act.

El Paso County received no direct aid in the second stimulus package passed in December of 2020 since the bill did not contain direct aid to state and local governments.
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