The Ramsey County Board approved a plan Tuesday to spend $70 million of its $96 million federal COVID aid package, including funding for emergency housing, food assistance for families, small-business grants and help for job seekers.
Commissioners withheld final approval on $26 million allocated to the county’s own emergency response costs, directing staff to seek board approval as that money is spent.
Commissioner Jim McDonough led the effort to delay approval of the final $26 million, saying the public needed “transparency and accountability.”
Under the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act signed by President Donald Trump in March, Minnesota received $2.2 billion, which must be spent by year’s end.
The state government received the bulk of the funding, $1.87 billion, with Hennepin County getting $212 million and Ramsey $96 million. The state’s largest cities, including Minneapolis and St. Paul, didn’t receive a direct federal allotment and their leaders now are making a case for a share of the state’s emergency funds.
Ramsey County Manager Ryan O’Connor said the county’s plan strives to balance the need to quickly and equitably deploy money into the community while also ensuring accountability.
“There is a general fear, concern and distrust that government has not always thought of those most in need if we break it down on racial and ethnic lines,” O’Connor said.
To address those fears, the county is partnering with a host of community groups and nonprofits to ensure all racial and ethnic groups as well as women-led businesses and households have access to aid.
Under the plan, Ramsey County will spend about $15 million on rental and mortgage emergency assistance, noting that “housing stability is foundational for children’s health and family well-being.”
The county will spend $10 million on food assistance, including help for local nonprofits and school districts already distributing meals in the community.
The county has budgeted $15 million on workforce development to help a crush of job seekers. As of May 17, nearly 24% of Ramsey County’s labor force had applied for unemployment.
About $15 million will be directed toward small-business recovery, including millions in grants for struggling businesses that have 20 employees or fewer.
“Close to 70 percent of businesses in Ramsey County have fewer than 10 employees,” according to a county report.
Finally, the county is budgeting $40 million for its own emergency response costs: the opening of new facilities and renting hotel rooms for the homeless, purchase of personal protective equipment for staff and assistance for its health department. The board approved $14 million for emergency response, most of which has already been spent, and will approve the remaining $26 million as it’s spent.