All Politics is Local

Clark County claims CARES Act funding shortchange

Clark County is claiming that it should receive more than three times its initial allotment of CARES Act funding from the state of Washington.

The county has received $26,867,500 in the federal aid that was approved in March. But a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee signed unanimously by county councilors Thursday claims that the county should have received $88.3 million. It also claims that cities in the county, as well as other municipalities in the state, have been shortchanged by upwards of millions of dollars.

The CARES Act allows states to retain 55 percent of the federal funds and 45 percent for smaller local governments. The act defines small governments as jurisdictions with populations under 500,000, and Clark County is just under that mark. Larger local governments received direct federal funding.

The letter says that the state has only provided 30 percent of funding intended for smaller governments.

County officials cite Department of Treasury guidelines written May 28, about two weeks after the state announced allocation amounts. According to the guidance, while allocation methods are different, the amount of the funding to smaller governments should be distributed at the same per-capita rate as larger governments.

“This approach will ensure equitable treatment among local governments of all size,” the guidelines read.

Spokane County, for example, has just 7.2 percent more residents than Clark County but is over the 500,000-person threshold. It has received over three times more funding than Clark County.

“The full and complete appropriation to smaller local governments is critical to ensuring every corner of Washington state, including Clark County, has the greatest resources possible under the CARES Act to fully respond to the immediate public health needs and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter reads. “The inequity in CARES Act funding is about more than just a number. It is about ensuring that every citizen in the state is covered by the same level of CARES Act funding, regardless of where they live.”

The letter is not the first issue the county has raised with the state’s management of CARES Act funding.

Funding is only available as reimbursement for COVID-19 related expenses through Dec. 30. But the state has imposed an Oct. 31 deadline for local governments to establish plans to use the funds.

Last month, staffers and councilors argued that the deadline will prohibit the county from planning for financial issues that may arise later this year.

Jack Heffernan

Jack Heffernan

Jack Heffernan is a breaking news reporter and covers Clark County government for The Columbian.