Frustration, exasperation at KCMO City Hall over CARES Act funding

lucas july 22 operation legend press conference
Posted at 6:30 AM, Aug 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-10 07:30:43-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In a one-on-one interview with 41 Action News this past weekend, Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas expressed frustration and exasperation about the slow progress made in the Jackson County Legislature over the distribution of CARES Act funds to the city.

The city requested more than $54 million to help in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, laying out how the money will be spent for the health department and other services.

The county said it would distribute about $18 million, calling the initial request "vague" and unable to withstand a federal audit.

Lucas said the need for funds is urgent, and the costs are rising with virus cases rising in the city.

"There are real costs to COVID-19. We have a backlog for some COVID-19 tests in Kansas City of up to 12 days and people call my office, they call the city council, they ask the city what can you do better to make sure that we're getting quick results that we're getting contact tracing that we’re able to open schools, the answer is we need money. And it's not there yet," Mayor Lucas said. "These were dollars that were crafted by the federal government, and actually Washington got something done once and was able to get money to the states and local government jurisdictions, the distribution process out of our counties has been not just less than ideal, but incredibly distressing for the people of Kansas City, particularly in Jackson and Platte counties."

The Jackson County Legislature meets again Monday morning at 10 a.m.

The county received $122 million in CARES Act funds, and Kansas City did not directly get that money from the federal government because it missed the 500,000 population threshold set by the law.

With the city's population dispersed across multiple counties, City Hall is at the mercy of county legislatures to distribute those funds.

"You don't want your doctors practicing medicine defensively. You don't want your local government practicing its business defensively. You don't want to say, well, we may not have enough money for testing long term. So we're going to release a small number of tests over the next several weeks and months. That's the position we're in right now. This is not money that goes into my pocketbook or helps us just balance the budget, it's instead money that’s essential to address a crisis point that we're in right now in Kansas City, and frankly throughout our region," Lucas said.

Additionally, the city is looking at making significant budget cuts in the midst of the pandemic. City council asked the city manager to craft a plan that would institute a minimum one-week furlough for city employees.

"We are looking to cut about $50 million in this year's city budget. So over the next seven months or so, trying to find those types of cost savings is going to be difficult," Lucas said. "I understand the impact this will have on city employees, their families, our community on service delivery and we thought, rather than broad-based layoffs in any way, would be smarter for us to at least try to do something that could be as pinpointed as possible."