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County committee to review American Rescue Plan programs

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The Cumberland County Board of Commissioners’ American Rescue Plan Committee will meet Thursday to review several programs and other issues related to the funds.

They include the county’s small business economic assistance program; aid to nonprofit organizations; the status of sub-awards with Cape Fear Valley Health, Fayetteville State University, and Fayetteville Technical Community College; its health insurance fund reimbursement eligibility, and options for restoring pre-pandemic employment levels.

The staff also will ask commissioners for American Rescue Plan funding to continue emergency rental and utility assistance.

The ARP Committee is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. in Room 564 of the Judge E. Maurice Braswell Cumberland County Courthouse. Commissioners Glenn Adams, Toni Stewart and Jimmy Keefe comprise the committee.

Small business economic assistance program

The county ARP staff has been meeting with business owners to get signatures on funding contracts, according to a memo to the committee from Tye Vaught, the county chief of staff.

He wrote that staff is working diligently to move these executed contracts through the county's workflow and purchase order processes. The ARP staff committee is performing final reviews on applications that are not recommended for funding by the Small Business Review Panel and sending out determination letters to those applicants.

Aid to nonprofit organizations

At its Sept. 6 meeting, committee members asked for a deeper analysis of program budgets for nonprofit organizations that submitted proposals through the Aid to Nonprofit formal Request For Proposal process.

Based on this deeper analysis, county staff has determined that “significant portions of submitted budgets are for administrative costs.” Sub-awards cap administrative expenses at 10% for either direct or indirect costs.

According to Vaught, the staff is asking the ARP Committee for guidance on how to address this matter. If the committee wishes to move forward with the current proposals, the county’s purchasing department can submit a final “Request for Clarification” by asking the remaining responsive nonprofits to submit revised budgets and amend their scopes of work.

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Sub-awards with CFVH, FSU and FTCC

Federal and state requirements for contracting, or sub-awarding, ARPA funds are cumbersome and time-consuming both for the vendor/sub-recipient and for county staff, according to County Finance Director Vicki Evans.

Specific to the sub-award process, finance staff worked with Cape Fear Valley Health’s Narcan distribution project and its Community Paramedics project; Fayetteville State University’s Small Business Enterprise project; and Fayetteville Technical Community College’s Hope, Opportunity, Prosperity through Education (HOPE) project on required documentation for sub-awards.

According to Evans, each of the three is at a different stage of the document submission and review process, which is required before a sub-recipient risk assessment can be conducted.

Finance staff is waiting for a response from CFVH on needed policy changes and other documentation for both projects, and FSU described a project that does not meet ARPA eligibility criteria, which will require the county to provide a different funding source for the county contribution amount, Evans wrote in her memo to the committee.

She said FTCC has submitted all required documentation, including board-approved policies, which has moved them forward to finance staff conducting the risk assessment process.

Health Insurance Fund reimbursement eligibility

Blue Cross Blue Shield has been periodically providing county employees with a claims report that shows the total costs of paid COVID-19 claims broken down by testing, vaccinations and treatment, according to Evans.

“There is an opportunity to reimburse the county's Health Insurance Fund from the ARPA fund based on the report of actual claims paid to date of approximately $1.2 million. This reimbursement could partially offset the impact COVID has had on overall claims increases (directly and indirectly) over the past two years,” Evans wrote in her memo to the committee.

Evans points to a preliminary report that shows a decrease in the fund balance of the Health Insurance fund of $3.1 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

“Each of the three service types (testing, vaccination, treatment) are assigned to an ARPA allowable expenditure category and are cited as an eligible use, and is allowed per the final rule and state statute. This information has been verified by the County Attorney's Office,” Evans states in her memo.

Restoring pre-pandemic employment levels

Working with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners and the UNC School of Government, Cumberland County staff arrived at a method to restore pre-pandemic employment levels, according to Vaught.

In a memo to committee members, he states the U.S. Treasury’s ARPA rule allows two options to restore pre-pandemic employment. The options depend on the recipient’s needs.

Under the first option, a recipient may use ARPA funds to rehire employees for pre-pandemic positions that were unfilled or eliminated because of the pandemic without further analysis.

“Under a second option, the rule allows recipients to hire above the pre-pandemic baseline by adjusting the pre-pandemic baseline for historical growth in public sector employment over time and flexibility in hiring roles. Recipients may choose between these options but cannot use both. Staff recommends that the ARP Committee consider Option 2. There are four steps needed to utilize this option,” Vaught wrote in his memo.

Each of the items was presented to the committee for information purposes only. County staff did not recommend committee action on any of the items.

Emergency rental and utility assistance

In May, the Cumberland County Department of Social Services became the administrator of the county’s Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program. The department received around 6,000 applications. It also received about $4.3 million in State Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA-a1) money to process the backlogged applications.

That money expired on Sept. 30, but the DSS has about 645 applications that are pending. Approved applications as of Oct. 1 will no longer be eligible for assistance under State ERA-1 because funding has expired, according to Assistant County Manager Heather Skeens.

“We are anticipating our allocation of State ERA-2 funding from North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office (NCPRO) within a few weeks and have requested reallocation of Treasury ERA-2 monies,” she wrote in a memo to the committee.

She further stated that ERA-2 funds will be used to process new rent and utility applications when the application portal is opened on Nov. 1.

“We are requesting to access ARP funding set aside for rental assistance to use as bridge funding to continue processing backlogged applications until a new agreement is executed and new funding is received from NCPRO for the ERA-2 allocation,” she wrote.

County staff is asking the committee to approve $1.5 million in ARP money allocated for Household Assistance: Rental Assistance pending applications that remain unfunded after the Sept. 30 ERA-1 expiration date.

Jason Brady covers Cumberland County government for CityView. He can be reached at jbrady@cityviewnc.com.

Cumberland County, Board of Commissioners, American Rescue Plan Committee, funding, programs, rental assistance