‘We would be gone:’ Those who received part of $92.7M in local CARES Act funding describe relief

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert discusses how the county distributed $92.78 million in CARES Act funding.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

About 89% of Montgomery County’s $92.78 million CARES Act allotment went directly to keep thousands of small businesses, farmers, homeowners and renters afloat last year. It also helped ease the financial strain the pandemic caused schools, nonprofits, daycare and healthcare and providers.

“It helped the community at its greatest time of need,” said Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert. “Everyone saw shortfalls — businesses, agriculture, education, nonprofits — the economy just came to a halt.”

About 11% of the U.S. Treasury funding Montgomery County received last March stayed within county government and was spent to protect employees and visitors to its facilities as well as administer coronavirus relief programs, according to a final report of program spending made Tuesday by Colbert.

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Educational institutions received the greatest share — a little more than $24 million — followed by nonprofits, which received about $18.2 million in funding, according to the Montgomery County Office of CARES Act.

Relief grants to educational institutions went primarily to bridge a digital divide as students moved to remote classes and provide protective equipment for those still in schools.

“The grant allowed us to purchase much-needed technology to facilitate online learning and PPE for staff and students,” said Elizabeth Lolli, Dayton Public Schools superintendent. “This assistance allowed us to remain financially stable while providing for the immediate needs of the district.”

Much of nonprofit share went toward human services as local agencies struggled to house and feed vulnerable citizens during the pandemic, Colbert said.

Grants were awarded to 136 nonprofits including The Foodbank, St. Vincent de Paul, the YWCA and to Homefull for a mobile grocery. Senior Resource Connection also received a grant to meet a rising pandemic demand for the Meals on Wheels service, said Chuck Komp, its president.

“We’re serving between 2,500 and 2,600 meals every day, up from our normal 1,900 meals per day before the pandemic,” Komp said. “Without the CARES Act money overall, we would be gone. We would absolutely be gone.”

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More than $12.8 million went toward housing and utility assistance to help households avoid foreclosure and eviction and keep the lights on, according to the county.

Housing assistance of $5 million went to 1,606 households to help with rent while $1.8 million assisted 339 households with mortgage payments. In partnership with Dayton Power & Light and Vectren, a little more than $6 million helped 10,512 households with their electric bills and 5,890 pay the gas company.

About 14% — $12.79 million — of the county’s CARES Act funds targeted small businesses.

Mary Clark, owner of House of Paws, a pet grooming business in Centerville, was one of 1,290 small business grant applicants approved for a $10,000 grant through the county’s program.

“It was a tremendous blessing. We were shut down for five solid weeks,” she said.

Clark said she was able to pay back rent and then hire a new groomer to keep up with demand that increased once the business was allowed to reopen.

“I would not have been able to do that without that extra money,” she said. “I was able to get the equipment and still stay open to pay rent and focus on training.”

About two-thirds of the small business grant funding went to those located in Dayton. Overall, 529 of the grant recipients were minority-owned businesses; 62 women-owned and 88 veteran-owned.

Roughly $10.6 million of the Montgomery County’s CARES Act allocation stayed within county government to supply county employees with PPE and computer hardware and networking to support remote workers. Money also went toward facilities improvements to prevent spread of the virus, as well as to administer the CARES Act grant programs.

The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office received about $1.9 million between the Dispatch Center, operations and the county jail where 10 new visitors’ kiosks were added in the lobby.

The county’s Office of CARES Act received $675,569 to administer the grant programs. In addition to some salaries, the amount includes the buildout of the grants application portal as well as network upgrades and laptops for office staff, according to the county.

“Everything but $10 million went straight back out to the community,” Colbert said. “So that’s pretty impressive for the county to put more than $80 million into the community.”

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Montgomery County farmers received 81 grants totaling $6.85 million and healthcare program grants totaling $5 million went to 40 recipients, including $1 million to OneFifteen Recovery and $876,665 to each Kettering Health Network and Miami Valley Hospital, according to the county.

Montgomery County commissioners declared a state of emergency on March 17 and the CARES Act, the federal $2 trillion relief act was signed into law on March 27. Montgomery County opened the application process for its first program on June 11.

Nationally, about $1.7 trillion of roughly $1.9 trillion in CARES Act obligations had been spent by the end of 2020, according to USAspending.gov.

President Joe Biden is pushing Congress to pass a new $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package while a Republican contingent including Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has countered with a $618 billion plan.

While it’s unclear if legislation will provide further relief funding for counties, some of CARES Act spending will have lasting impact, said Marvene Mitchell-Cook, director of the county’s Office of CARES Act.

The county’s Mobile Workforce Unit and Homefull’s Mobile Grocery, both put on the road with CARES Act funding, will provide underserved communities with job opportunities and nutritious food well into the future, she said.

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While the county is keeping an eye on any new legislation, Colbert said the county is focused on launching a new program within the month for renters still struggling to pay the landlord or utility companies.

Montgomery County received $15.9 million in additional federal funds distributed by the U.S. Treasury through the Emergency Rental Assistance program passed by Congress at the end of December.

“We’re still in the heart of this pandemic,” Colbert said. “We’re probably looking at another year before we get out of this.”

Montgomery County Commissioner Carolyn Rice said the CARES Act process wasn’t perfect but helped citizens and organizations through a difficult time — that has yet to end.

“Were there some bumps in the road? Absolutely,” she said. “We can only hope that the federal government recognizes that and comes up with more funding to continue to tackle the challenge that we all have, because we’re not through this pandemic yet.”

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