Maricopa County is injecting nearly $400 million into the local economy to help combat COVID-19. With today’s unanimous vote by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, there’s now a clearer picture of how individuals, families, businesses, and health care professionals will benefit from those federal CARES Act dollars.
“Our first job is to protect community health and safety. That’s why the bulk of our spending is focused on what we can do to address the immediate health emergency, as well as what we can do to be prepared for whatever happens next during this pandemic,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Clint Hickman, District 4. “I appreciate the work of the entire Maricopa County team as we look to wisely use these funds to attack the spread of the virus and assist those facing financial hardship.”
Maricopa County received $399 million from the U.S. Treasury as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The purpose of this money is to cover expenditures related to the public health emergency that were not already included in fiscal year 2020 budget. Under the plan approved today by the Board, CARES Act funds will be distributed as follows:
- Health emergency response: $83.5 million
- Homeless response and prevention: $40 million
- Small businesses: $23 million
- County services: $77.5 million
- Future needs: $175 million
HEALTH EMERGENCY RESPONSE
The County plans to spend $93 million to support the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. $25 million is allocated for testing services; $15 million for enhanced contact tracing and disease investigation; $10 million for personal protective equipment for health care workers; $5 million to support for long-term care facilities; and $1 million for surge capacity at the Office of the Medical Examiner.
“Our public health experts have told us what they need to combat COVID-19 in our community and this Board has responded,” said Vice Chairman Jack Sellers, District 1. “We know that government can’t solve this crisis alone, but I am optimistic these funds will help our families and communities come back stronger.”
“We want to be a government that optimizes its resources, and that’s exactly what we are doing with our share of CARES Act funding,” said Supervisor Steve Chucri, District 2. “We are targeting money where it’s needed most so that front line health care workers, those who are at greater risk for serious illness due to COVID-19, and those who lack the resources to adapt to economic instability are getting needed support.”
HOMELESS RESPONSE AND PREVENTION
The Maricopa County Human Services Department administers several programs which provide assistance to people who are struggling to make ends meet. With the uncertain economic environment, the demand for those services is greater. To address that need, the Board has allocated $30 million in CARES Act funding to bolster existing Human Services programs which help people pay their bills and stay in their homes.
“Our public health professionals are doing incredible work to combat the disease, but we know this is also a financial emergency for many people in our community,” said Supervisor Bill Gates, District 3. “I am grateful that we don’t have to make government bigger to make a difference. Instead, we can use federal dollars to improve existing county services, like our rental and utility assistance programs.”
There has been an overwhelming interest in rental assistance and eviction protection since the start of the pandemic. Human Services will use some CARES Act funding to enhance a program aimed at helping more people stay in their homes. The spending plan also includes $10 million to assist the region’s growing homeless population.
“People who need help, need it now. They don’t want to feel like they’re getting swallowed up and lost in the system, or worse, forgotten entirely” said Supervisor Steve Gallardo, District 5. “I support whatever we can do to help those who need it most, be it seniors, kids, or our homeless population.”
Another $7.5 million in federal grants—separate from the $400 million allotment the County received directly—will go toward early education, senior services, employment assistance, emergency food, and other community services to benefit individuals and families.
In normal times, Maricopa County helps to support economic growth in the region through balanced regulatory policies, not through direct investment in local businesses. With the unprecedented nature of this pandemic, county leaders felt it was necessary to direct some CARES Act funding to the business community. While the details are still being worked out, the plan approved by the Board allocates $23 million toward a grant program that would support small businesses and non-profit organizations that can demonstrate financial hardship because of COVID-19. Because the cities of Phoenix and Mesa also received significant CARES Act funding, businesses and non-profits in those cities would not be eligible to apply.
Maricopa County has continued to provide necessary public services during the pandemic, but the virus has changed the way people interact with the County. More people are doing business online; those who visit in-person want to make sure they are safe. To address these issues, the Board allocated $41.5 million for enhancements to resident services including additional handwashing stations and touchless pay kiosks at parks, physical safety upgrades at other county locations, and expanded online services including more options for getting documents and paying bills. County leadership has also made employee safety a priority through the pandemic. The Board is allocating $36 million in CARES Act funding to support the county workforce through increased remote working capability and additional leave options to support individuals and families.
Maricopa County has a long history of conservative fiscal planning. In deciding how to spend CARES Act funding, leadership agreed that it would not be wise to immediately spend all CARES Act dollars. Instead, the Board chose to set $175 million aside for the unexpected, like a possible second wave of the virus. Having the money available will allow the County to respond more quickly to needs as they arise.
Earlier this spring, the Board of Supervisors approved guidelines to evaluate CARES Act spending requests from departments. Under those guidelines, the County Manager approves smaller spending requests, while larger spends go before the Board of Supervisors for a public vote. CARES Act funding can only be used on expenses incurred between March 1 and December 30, 2020.