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How Hamilton County Is Looking To Spend Leftover CARES Act Funds

Commissioners could approve a third round of small business loans for Hamilton County businesses like this one in downtown Cincinnati.
Commissioners could approve a third round of small business loans for Hamilton County businesses like this one in downtown Cincinnati.

Hamilton County is deciding how to spend its leftover CARES Act funding. Some programs didn't use all of their allocations, and a federal extension means the county can continue rolling leftover dollars into other or new programs.

The county has about $11 million to reallocate. Assistant County Administrator Holly Christmann says $4.3 million can be redirected to existing programs, and recommends the remaining $6.6 million go toward some new efforts.

"(For) the bulk of it we recommend a third round of small business assistance, with eligibility and criteria to be determined, and if the board agrees, to be determined pretty quickly," she says. "We are also recommending funding for the increased demand for food."

Administrators propose $4.35 million for the small business program; $1 million for food banks to deal with increased food costs; $500,000 to help people navigate assistance programs; and $800,000 for upgrading the county's phone system.

The recommendation about upgrading the phone system raised a few eyebrows, and commissioners indicated they may need more information. Christmann pointed out part of that request is that Hamilton County Public Health needs an upgraded phone system to handle the high volume of calls related to the coronavirus and the vaccination process. However, the way the county's phone system is configured means it can't be done piecemeal, the whole system must be updated.

Board Vice President Alicia Reece wants something done about what she calls a "bottleneck" in connecting people with help.

"We got the money here - millions," she said, holding up one hand. "But (people in need) are in the pipeline and can't get to the millions and their gas and electric has been cut off," she continued, holding up her other hand. "We have millions available but we can't get it to them, we have to acknowledge and look at how do we stop that bottleneck."

President Stephanie Summerow Dumas wants to make sure wraparound services are available.

"I would ask that we look at the whole gamut of what (people's) needs are," she said. "It's great we help with housing, but do they also need food?" she asked as an example.

The board is expected to discuss the matter again at next week's Tuesday staff meeting and could vote on a spending plan Feb. 18. The goal is to have everything accounted for before any new federal aid arrives.

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