With city leaders in the process of deciding how to spend American Rescue Plan Act funds, here’s how Columbia has spent federal COVID-19 relief funds allocated under last year’s CARES Act.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, passed by Congress in March 2020, provided funds across the U.S. These funds were given to the city in three ways: passed through the state, from Boone County’s federal share that the county passed on to the city or directly from the federal government.
Columbia was awarded $26 million in CARES act funding directly last year. Of that, about $17 million has been received. The city divided the funds into five programs.
Airport Funding ($18 million)
According to a report made by Columbia Director of Finance Matthew Lue, Columbia Regional Airport was awarded over $18 million. The report notes that $10 million was received last May for construction reimbursement and a new terminal project. Additionally, about $2 million will be given to the airport each year over the next four years for operating expenses. This allocation fully funded airport operations and the construction of a new terminal and extended runways. City Manager John Glascock said the federal funding for the airport allows the city to redirect funds that it would have spent on the airport to road construction and maintenance projects.
Transit ($4 million)
Transit received the second highest allocation of funds at over $4 million. Lue’s report says the funds support operations and capital costs such as personnel costs, cleaning, bus repair/replacement, transit facility costs, lost revenues from fares and any transit costs associated with the pandemic. Operating costs for transit are covered 100% for Columbia’s current fiscal year, which stops at the end of this month. CARES funds will enable the city to continue no-fare buses for the city’s next fiscal year.
Community Development Block Grants ($1.3 million)
The city has been awarded two separate rounds of funds in Community Development Block Grants. The first CDBG round was for $513,000. Of that, $270,000 went to rent assistance, $59,000 was budgeted for administration costs and the rest was dedicated to microenterprise assistance.
The second round was for $797,000. The money was divided between seven organizations and also helped with rent assistance, food, temporary shelter, childcare and vocational training. The CDBG expense decisions were subject to the rules and regulations of the CARES legislation.
An area of need was revealed to the city after realizing the $797,000 was not enough to cover the 19 proposals sent in by 12 different organizations. Timothy Teddy, the city’s community development director, explained there were proposals for CDBG funding well in excess of the funds received by the city. After being made aware of the deficiency, the City Council made $1.3 million in city reserves available to fully fund all the proposals.
The organizations with funded proposals include the Voluntary Action Center, the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, the Food Bank of Central Missouri, Turning Point, the Salvation Army, Central Missouri Community Action and Job Point.
Department of Justice ($131,000)
The DOJ Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding has been awarded and received in full. Nearly $90,000 was given to the Columbia Police Department and $41,000 to the Columbia Fire Department. The funding was approved for personal protection equipment, uniform cleaning and uniform replacement.
Funds received from the state ($253,000)
The Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau received approximately $253,000 under the Show Me Strong grant, a state program funded by federal CARES funds. The funds were approved to implement marketing strategies that assist communities and attractions that reopened and resumed economic activity. Merisa Meador, a senior accountant for the city, said in an email that the “CVB covers a lot of the signs you see around Columbia for COVID.”
Almost 90% of the funds from Show Me Strong were used for marketing. The rest was for creating safe events and supplies.
“The majority was for marketing,” said Megan McConachie, the CVB’s strategic communications manger. “So when people started planning travel again we would be top of mind for potential visitors.”
Funds also reimbursed the CVB for COVID-19 related expenses, including facility upgrades needed due to pandemic and any COVID-19 related purchases by CVB for general operations.
Funds received from Boone County ($9 million)
Columbia received over $9 million in funding from Boone County’s federal funds. According to the National League of Cities website, the uses of funds were limited by the federal government’s interim final rule, which is a “list of eligible expenditures, encouraged expenditures, and prohibited expenditures.” The county allocated the funds to general public health, contact tracing, public safety and community development block grants.
Approximately $2.4 million was given to general public health, $1.9 million was used for personnel expenses such as wages, benefits and trainings. The remaining half million was used for supplies and services.
The county also provided $1.8 million for contact tracing and $4.2 million for public safety expenses such as overtime hours, COVID-19 leave and benefits.
The city administered $675,000 for an agreement with Boone County that Columbia’s community development team take the lead on a small business program. The small business recovery grant program gave out $10,000 loans to businesses both inside and outside of city limits with the county’s funds.
Reserve funds used to address COVID-19 ($1.5 million)
Separate from CARES funds, the Columbia City Council dipped into reserve funds to further assist areas needing additional funds.
The Columbia Fire and Police departmentswere given $650,000 in reserve funds for overtime expenses.
The entertainment business received $600,000 in assistance. This was used for a business license and health inspection rebate program, rebates for 2020 licensing fees for restaurants and bars and hotel/motel and concert venue reimbursement for COVID-19 related expenses.
Another $300,000 in reserve funds went to the city’s Utility Assistance Program. With an emphasis in serving the elderly, disabled and families with children age 18 and under and in low-income households, it also aided with all utilities for Columbia residences. The funds have been fully disbursed.
With CARES funds fully awarded and allocations determined, decisions on American Rescue Plan Act funding come next.
Over $25 million has been awarded to the city as of May, and $12.5 million has been received. The second batch will be received next May.
No determination has been made at this time, but all funds must be spent by the end of 2024. In addition to the $25 million, the city will be receiving $2.161 million in “HOME-ARP” funds to address homelessness.