Commissioners to require health officials to submit request in grant form
ix months after receipt of $12.2 million in federal COVID-19 relief dollars, the Platte County Commission now says public agencies can officially file paperwork to apply for some of the CARES money in control of the commission.
On Monday, the county commission passed what it calls an order establishing the grant application process for “political subdivisions.”
The move will presumably now allow the Platte County Health Department to formally request funds. Months ago, health department officials submitted paperwork documenting the need for around $700,000 in CARES money for testing, personnel and other COVID-19 related expenses.
According to a recent report by the Kansas City Star, the Platte County Health Department is one of only four health departments in the state not to have been given CARES money by its county commission. Many county commissions to their respective health departments months ago.
Mary Jo Vernon, director of the health department, recently told The Landmark that the health department’s needs at this point would likely be more than $700,000 because of other staffing needs that arose in the time since the preliminary figure was submitted to the county commission.
The county commission has been in possession of $12.2 million in federal aid due to COVID-19 for six months. To this point it has distributed none of that to the county health department, an agency on the front line of the fight during the pandemic. The county commission has distributed millions to businesses who filed claims of financial harm due to government-ordered shutdowns in the early weeks of the pandemic.
The money was distributed to the county through the office of Missouri State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick. At the time of the distribution to Platte County, Fitzpatrick asked Ron Schieber, presiding commissioner, to pass along $6 million of the $12 million to the City of Kansas City. The $6 million would represent half of the money and was determined based on the fact that half of Platte County’s population is comprised of folks who reside within the city limits of Kansas City.
To this point the county commission has distributed zero dollars to Kansas City.
The CARES money became a political tool in some counties, including Platte, after some elected officials–including the Platte County commissioners–expressed their displeasure with the health department ordering non-essential businesses closed during the early days of the pandemic.
“It’s unconscionable,” said Bert Malone, a board member of the Missouri Public Health Association, in a recent issue of the Kansas City Star. “This is a disease control effort and the local public health agencies frankly should be first in line.”
Malone said some county commissions have withheld funds because they blame public health agencies for advocating for shutdowns and mask mandates.
“This is not a blame game,” he said. “This is life and death.”
At Monday’s commission meeting, Schieber said with approval of the order it’s a matter of political subdivisions getting their requests to the commission “in grant format.”
A memorandum of understanding shifts liability of CARES money passed to the health department from the county to the health department. Health officials have said they are fine accepting the audit responsibility for those funds. County commissioners recently said they wanted wording in the document changed from “amount requested” to “amount awarded,” which could be an indication the commissioners intend to award fewer dollars than the health department requests.