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Jackson County continues to drag feet disbursing CARES Act money

Jackson County Courthouse
Posted at 2:20 PM, Jun 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-15 19:59:15-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The biggest cities in Jackson County will have to wait a little longer to receive CARES Act funding, which had to first be funneled through the state of Missouri and now is tied up by red tape at the county level.

The Jackson County Legislature approved $184,100 in federal money on Monday — less than 0.2% of the $122.7 million the state allocated to the county — for Lone Jack, Sugar Creek, Oak Grove and Raytown for COVID-19 safety equipment and supplies as well as to pay overtime municipal workers responding to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Kansas City, Missouri, Independence, Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs have received nothing as bills pile up and local tax revenue dries up.

“It’s been going on, what now, three weeks ago, I went to the county legislature,” Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton Lucas said. “I respect them and processes, but at the same time, people are hurting — real economic impacts in our region.”

Independence Mayor Eileen Weir expressed frustration with the legislature’s infighting after speaking at Monday during the legislature’s meeting.

She said ordinances that are proposed don’t get support from other legislators, which leads to gridlock.

“I don’t know if I’m optimistic,” Weir said. “I came today because I don’t think everyone understands what exactly has been told to the mayors and city managers and administrators. I think even some of the people who’ve been in those discussions aren’t seeing that picture. They’re not seeing how we keep being told something different every week. When you lay that out, it’s pretty frustrating and glaring that we have needs, money intended to meet these needs, and have made no progress.”

Independence has submitted requests for funding, per county instruction, only to be told it wasn’t actionable.

“Do they want me to write an ordinance?” Weir asked rhetorically. “I can, (but) that’s not what I was instructed to do all of these weeks.”

Kansas City, Missouri, which is the largest city in Missouri, fell just shy of the 500,000 population requirement to receive direct CARES Act funding and asked the county for an accelerated lump sum last month to fund testing, contact tracing and other expenses.

After initially balking at a similar plan, Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr. has proposed sending half of the CARES Act money to each city in the county divvied up by population to help get the money into communities quicker, but the proposal wasn’t on Monday’s agenda for the Jackson County Legislature.

That has left KCMO, which operates its own health department, waiting on Jackson County along with three other cities of at least 50,000 people — Independence, Lee’s Summit and Blue Springs.

“Every time we talk about it, the goal post is moving,” Weir said. “That makes it very frustrating. This money is sitting on the sidelines and it’s needed to be put into these communities so people can be supported and long-term, contribute to the economy, have stable housing, all things necessary for our fragile local economies to survive and ultimately thrive. All I’m asking for, simply, is my county government to figure it out and tell us what is the process.”

Weir said the county has requested input from local cities about what their needs, so Independence requested a share of $10 million for regional transit help.

That money, which also comes from the CARES Act, was approved in late May by the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority.

Independence also requested $23 from the county, according to Weir, including $9 million for utility assistance.

“We have our own electric, water, and sanitary sewer in Independence. No other city in Jackson County has that,” she said.

Independence is staring at $6 million in delinquent utility payments, because shut-offs were prohibited during the pandemic.

“We have people who need utility assistance,” Weir said. “There’s overtime of employees, there’s (personal protective equipment), all the things you think of, and future planning. How do we adapt our facilities so people can safely enter them?”

The needs are legitimate, but the funding hasn’t materialized.

White said the legislature’s refusal to work with an advisory group he tried to put together created some of the delays. He hopes the legislature will vote on helping Kansas City, Independence and other cities next week.

“Sometimes it moves at a snail’s pace,” he said, “but we’ve had a lot going on that’s distracting. We’re working hard to make everyone happy. We have to think about the fall — some budget issues, thinking about it coming back in the fall, spreading dollars out.

Still, entering this week, less than $14.4 million had been budgeted and less than $5.8 million had been distributed from more than $122 million, according to the county’s COVID-19 expenditure tracker.

“It’s frustrating because we are very used to process when you work in local government,” Weir said. “We know how to spend federal money.”

When it comes to Community Development Block Grants or other federal grant programs, the Mid-American Regional Council usually runs point on disbursing funds.

“.We know that there is typically a process laid out and everyone knows what the rules are,”: Weir said. “Everyone knows what the criteria is. You apply for your funding. You may or may not get all of it. You may get some, none, a portion.”

Right now, nobody’s getting anything — aside from the $184,100 approved Monday —

“Kansas City has presented requests in five different ways,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said. “All we want to do is help businesses, people, folks who need access to better testing. Those are efficiencies we are trying to create and we just want good partners. It’s exacerbated by separate counties.”

Parts of KCMO are located in three other counties aside from Jackson County.

A small sliver of the city is in Cass County, which received more than $12.4 million from the state's CARES Act allocation, while KCMO takes up a more significant chunk of Clay County and Platte counties.

Clay County received more than $29.3 million in CARES Act money from the state of Missouri, while Platte County received more than $12.2 million.

“I’ll continue to work with the county legislature, to the fullest extent possible to get money out there,” Lucas said. “I appreciate their work and efforts, but I want to make sure we get good money out on the street to those affected by the crisis and economic outcome.”

He continued, “As the economic crisis continues and COVID crisis continues, we have to have answers for folks and get this money out on the streets soon.”