Now that spending has expired for the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, county officials have assembled an extensive document detailing how they spent their $5.3 million CARES allocation to submit to state and federal officials for auditing purposes.
“The intention was really to put [the information] into a snapshot or overview for somebody who was coming from outside of the organization [so they] would be able to review the information and get some really good sense of how the process went,” said county CARES coordinator Jean Spaulding.
Spaulding reviewed the document with the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners during their Tuesday meeting.
“It almost seems too few pages for the details and amount of work,” quipped Commissioner Harlan Madsen. “Given the complexity and given all of the paperwork and applications, and the accounting, the auditing and innovation.”
Earlier this year the U.S. Congress established the CARES Act, which appropriated $150 billion to the Coronavirus Relief Fund. In late June, Gov. Tim Walz released $841 million from the CARES Act that was divided into counties and cities based on population. Of that, Kandiyohi County received $5.2 million, as well as an additional $60,639 from unallocated city and township funds that were given to the county.
Shortly after receiving the funds in July, the County Board then divided into six different committees—each led by department heads and county commissioners—to oversee and advocate for CARES Act spending.
The county followed guidelines and directions set forth by the U.S. Treasury Department, Minnesota Department of Management and Budget and Association of Minnesota Counties, though at times directions were quite vague.
The following is a breakdown of how the county allocated its CARES funds:
Health and Human Services:
- Mass vaccination event—$11,963
Kandiyohi County Public Health will assume responsibilities for dispersal of the COVID‑19 vaccine. In preparation for one of the most prolific vaccinations since polio, county Public Health officials looked to their past experience with mass vaccinations and determined the probable number of vaccinations needed would equate to 60% of the population.
- Child transport vehicle—$31,168
Health and Human Services staff work with minor children involved in family court in regards to custody. The county currently has four vehicles with a third row capacity, and with 82 kids currently in placement. However, since the onset of the pandemic, there has been an increase in child transport, requiring at least one more vehicle meeting the requirement for transporting minor children. It was recommended within the Health and Human Service Department to purchase one vehicle with a third row seat available specifically to be used for the transportation of minor children to meet the mandated social distancing safety guidelines.
- Office and translation services—$15,908
Health and Human Services conducted an internal audit and determined it required new equipment to meet COVID‑19 safety protocols. Most of the expenses were office supplies to allow the office file documents electronically.
- Woodland Centers—$38,038
Woodland Centers provides behavioral health care for seven county regions in west central Minnesota, including Kandiyohi County. Due to the stresses of the COVID‑19 pandemic, mental health needs have skyrocketed in the region. Meeting the sudden demand while having to operate remotely required Woodland Centers to invest in virtual counseling. Expenses included cell phones with prepaid minutes for clients who otherwise would not have access to remote counseling, as well as community marketing about the stresses of COVID‑19 and local accessibility to mental health care.
- At-home childcare and childcare centers—$71,000 and $60,000
With childcare already in short supply in Kandiyohi County, the COVID‑19 pandemic added great strain to an already limited source. The added regulations put on childcare centers to meet safety guidelines made the financial liability of childcare centers difficult. To curb this, every at‑home child care center was given a $1,000 grant and childcare centers were given $15,000 grants to offset added expenditures.
- Salvation Army—$20,000
The county reimbursed the Willmar Salvation Army for aid to residents needing emergency shelter, food and housing assistance due to the COVID‑19 pandemic prior to CARES funds being allocated to the county.
In order to virtually provide health and wellness classes, CarrisHealth invested in Juniper programming. Programs range from physical health to emotional health to disease management. For example, the CarrisHealth Diabetes Center has been able to host several Juniper classes virtually, and has seen an overall increase in class participation.
- Public safety and health payroll—$887,887
Payroll to county employees far exceeded what was budgeted for 2020, according to the report.
- Budgeted personnel diverted—$131,921
The amount of work time employees spend dedicated specifically to COVID‑19 related activities are not part of employees’ regular responsibilities and are substantially different than what they would be doing in a normal year, according to data from a coding system that tracks employees’ time.
- Family First—$178,454
Covered paid sick, paid family and medical leave for employees to comply with COVID‑19 precautions.
- Hydraulic Scissor Lift—$1,838
Emergency Management is responsible for mass fatalities related to the pandemic, and for storage and movement of deceased individuals. The equipment would be used if the amount of fatalities were to overload the system.
- Incident Command Center—$138,908
Following an assessment of possible scenarios in the event of widespread COVID‑19 in the community, the county determined that a mobile, fully activated command center would be instrumental in providing a centralized site and a temporary public medical facility to accommodate local response teams and medical professionals administering COVID‑19 vaccinations and testing events. The current command post was determined to have limitations and dated technology.
- Substance abuse screener—$64,900
The Law Enforcement Center, Probation and Health and Human Services routinely conduct substance abuse testing to confirm DUIs, probation violations and child safety conditions. These tests require personnel to visually monitor the collection sample, requiring personnel to be in close proximity to individuals collecting the sample. In order to better protect staff and public, the use of substance abuse screening devices was recommended to limit contact and decrease exposure.
- PortAccount for fit testing—$15,854
All personnel wearing N95 masks are required to have a fit-testing to ensure the N95 respirator is forming an adequate seal on the employee’s face. The county contracted with a vendor to provide annual fit tests.
- Versaflo hood respiratory systems—$19,984
High-end hooded protective equipment designed to protect against respiratory, head, face, eye and hearing protection for emergency personnel.
- Technology upgrades—$137,977
Technology and software upgrades to provide services from a distance.
- Jail interactive video teleconference—$1,679
The county jail was required to provide a meeting room for both state and federal court proceedings that occur through interactive video teleconferencing.
- Courtroom remodel—$10,395
The Minnesota State Court Administration required the county court to accommodate social distancing guidelines when holding a jury trial. The jury box was in turn removed, and new jury seating was installed that was spaced six feet apart.
Equipment, supplies and IT:
- Equipment and supplies—$241,103
Several touchless technology purchases were recommended to decrease exposure to COVID‑19 by eliminating the need for direct contact with doors, light switches and faucets in public facilities. Additionally, sanitary supplies and PPE was ordered for all departments.
- Technology and expenses—$179,296
In order to continue to provide essential services to the public while employees worked from home, the county invested in a host of technology to better allow employees to work virtually.
Small businesses and nonprofit grants:
- Businesses and nonprofit grant program—$2,102,526
Kandiyohi County partnered with surrounding cities and townships to develop a grant program that was administered by the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission (EDC). Criteria was developed for both business and non-profit grant applications, which allowed businesses to apply for a grant up to $15,000 and non-profits to apply for a grant up to $50,000. On Nov. 21, the County Board approved an additional $194,000 to specific businesses that were once again closed due to Gov. Tim Walz’s Executive Order. The amount of the additional grant was tiered based upon the original business grant: Grants of $10,000 and over received an additional $5,000; and grants less than $10,000 received an additional $3,000. In total 231 businesses received grants for a total of $2,455,000; and 38 non-profit organizations received grants for a total of $1,018,750.
Education, small cities and townships and joint powers agreements:
- Area school districts—$594,778
The county determined that needs for area schools to safely reopen were substantial, even with CARES funding of their own. It was recommended that among the nine school districts requesting funds, the county would allocate approximately $105 per Kandiyohi County student enrolled in the district.
- Prairie Lakes Youth Program—$123,994
The Prairie Lakes Youth Program provides corrections, detention and both secure and non‑secure alternative programs for children and young adults ages 10‑21. The facilities were greatly impacted by the COVID‑19 shutdown of schools and courts, forcing Prairie Lakes to change their operations in response. The county approved funding request based upon the appropriate use of funds for covering diverted personnel, as well as cleaning and disinfecting measures.
Though border-to-border broadband access has long been a priority of the county, the pandemic exacerbated the need for county-wide access to broadband internet. The County Board thus determined that it is necessary to know where and how to improve the internet for unserved or underserved regions in the county by funding a marketing campaign to encourage county residents to take a broadband speed test.
- Tourism marketing—$68,000
Due to hits to the tourism and hospitality sector, the county provided CARES funds to market the local businesses and local communities.
- Environmental Services—$57,760
Though the county has long been anticipated shifting from its multi‑sort recycling program to single‑sort, the pandemic forced the county prematurely dissolve its recycling program due to health risks and extended contact with its multi‑sort program.
- Central Community Transit—$7,000
Central Community Transit operates a Volunteer Driver Program that was impacted by the pandemic. As such, they requested CARES funds for staff that took on additional COVID‑19 related duties so that the transit system could continue to operate.
- Transfers to city and townships that did not receive fund—$29,454
Cities and townships below a certain population were not eligible for CARES funding from the state, leaving the county to assume responsibility. Most of the funds were for electronic poll pads for the election. However, the largest allocation was given to Sunburg, who required in addition to electronic poll pads, city laptops, iPads for the City Council and an ambulance defibrillator.
Lakes Area Review by Macklin Caruso