City Council Holds Hearing on Coronavirus Relief Grant

The City Council Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing on Monday regarding a grant from the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

The Council discussed a “message and order authorizing the City of Boston to accept and expend the amount of $120,853,359 in the form of a grant awarded by the United States Department of the Treasury to be administered by the City of Boston from the Coronavirus Relief Fund established by section 5001 of the CARES Act,” according to City Councilor and Chair of the Ways and Means Committee Kenzie Bok.

The City’s budget director, Justin Sterritt, was on hand to give an overview of the Federal CARES Act and explain how Boston plans on using this grant awarded by the federal government.

Sterritt said that the CARES Act was passed and signed on March 27, and consists of a stimulus package in the amount of $2 million to “address the public health and economic impacts of COVID-19.”

He said that Boston’s allotment is up to $121 million, and is restricted in what it can be used for. “It must be a necessary expenditure incurred due to the public health emergency,” he said, and for expenditures incurred during the period beginning March 1, 2020 and ending December 30, 2020.

“We will need very detailed accounting” on how the money will be spent he said. “This funding cannot be used as a revenue replacement,” he added, as the money can only be used for “public health and public safety expenditures directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Sterritt said he anticipates the funding being used for “unanticipated and necessary City costs related to COVID-19,” including personal protective gear for City staff, cleaning and disinfection of public areas and city facilities, technology to allow public employees to work remotely, Chromebooks and software for distance learning, and public health and medical expenditures, such as the Boston Hope facility at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

He said the money can also be used for “ongoing public health measures” related to the pandemic, such as testing and contact tracing, disease containment, quarantine and isolation, communication and community engagement, and more. It can also be sued for payroll expenses for City employees in public safety, public health, health care, and human services.

Other expenses that this money qualifies for include food delivery to senior citizens and other vulnerable residents, care for the homeless population, and support for youth and education, Sterritt said. These allotted funds must last until December 2020 to address these ongoing concerns.

Sterritt was asked how this money relates to money distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“We know that FEMA is not going to be here forever,” he responded. He said that the City qualifies money from FEMA as the first bucket of money that the city would use for things like emergency food money, and then this grant money would be a “secondary plot of money.”    

He also added that if something the grant money is spent on is “deemed ineligible for use by the he federal government,” the City will have to reimburse the federal government.

“The goal is to maximize the federal relief money,” Sterritt said.

The City Council then asked questions and raised concerns about this money and how it can be best spent. The councilors thanked the administration for their partnership on this issue, as well as stated the fact the discussion around this grant money and other funds will be ongoing as the coronavirus situation continues to unfold in the City.

“I think that we’re all cognizant of the fact that this is just a really moving, evolving target,” Councilor Bok said. “I certainly want to stress how important I think it is for us to move in every way we can to maximize our federal funds that we have access to.”

She added that the Council’s budget process looks very different this year, and “is going to have to be a more continual thing this year than we’re used to it being in the sense that we can expect rolling stimuli and impacts both positive and negative at the federal and state level that are not going to track our fiscal year deadline,” she said. “We’re all looking forward to that continuing to be a very active conversation.”  

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