County Board should spend CARES funds wisely


(7/8/2020)

From: Margaret Schild

Winona

 

I was disappointed when I read the July 1, 2020, Winona Post article on how Winona County Administrator Ken Fritz was proposing to spend the federal Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) funds.

Fritz proposes  to spend only two percent, or $124,000, each on mental health services and aid to individuals for a total of four percent of the $6.2-million allocation. Certainly he is aware that the federal unemployment aid will end on July 25 and we will see an increased need for housing and food assistance. The unemployment rate is the largest it has been in decades and it is not expected to be reduced for a significant period of time. And as county residents continue to experience the stress of financial insecurity and the ongoing pandemic, there will likely be an increased need for mental health services. But Fritz’s proposal ignores this.

Fritz proposes spending 50 percent, or $3.1 million of the CARES package on county payroll expenses. Surely Fritz understands that these federal funds cannot be used to replace state, local or agency funds. Thus using $3.1 million for county payroll  would be prohibited as the county already collects local taxes and state aid to cover those budgeted costs. If there are payroll expenses due to the coronavirus that were above what was budgeted and reimbursed by other sources, those expenses may be eligible for reimbursement. But I have not seen an accounting of those expenses.

Fritz is also proposing spending $1.5 million on economic assistance to local businesses. That’s great, but I understand that the Winona County Economic Development Authority currently has over $1 million sitting unused in its loan fund. Is there a plan to use these funds and the CARES allocation to set up a COVID-19 relief funds for those businesses affected? I would sure hope so.

Finally, Fritz is proposing $1 million to go toward expanding rural broadband Internet service. This is important especially if school continues distance learning. However, what other funds are already available to cover these costs?

I urge the Winona County Board to take a hard look at Fritz’s proposal and to ensure that the funds are not only used appropriately but in a way that best promotes the health, well-being  and economic status of Winona County residents most impacted by this pandemic.

 

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