Hennepin and Ramsey county commissioners began to hammer out plans Tuesday for the millions in federal funds they’ve received to battle COVID-19, aiming much of it at renters, homeowners and small businesses.
The Hennepin County Board unanimously approved $30 million for emergency rental housing assistance and small-business relief, part of a $212 million aid package that the county received from the federal government.
Meanwhile, Ramsey County unveiled a draft plan for how to spend its $96 million in federal COVID-19 aid. The plan earmarks millions for rent and mortgage payments, utility subsidies and food assistance, small-business grants and to help an anticipated crush of job seekers. The County Board is expected to act on the plan this spring.
Under the CARES Act — short for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security — 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; Hennepin County got $212 million and Ramsey $96 million.
Ramsey County Manager Ryan O’Connor said officials want to target the aid “as quickly as possible to people, businesses and families in need.” The county already has spent more than $10 million on COVID response efforts.
The Hennepin County Board earmarked $15 million in federal funding to help low-income residents needing help paying rent. The program will provide an average of $1,500 per family and is expected to assist 9,000 households.
The board also approved $15 million to assist the self-employed and small-business owners — up to $3,000 for self-employed business owners and as much as $10,000 for businesses with up to 20 employees. Commissioner Jeff Johnson called the funding “really crucial.”
According to Hennepin County Administrator David Hough, deaths in the county had risen from 126 on April 20 to 284 as of Tuesday. Hennepin County’s death rate is now outpacing comparable areas such as Milwaukee County, Wis., and Seattle’s King County, Wash.
Hennepin County will create a COVID-19 testing and technical assistance program for long-term care facilities. There have been 241 deaths in such facilities from the coronavirus, accounting for 84% of all COVID deaths in the county. Some of the federal money will be used for the facility testing program.
“The long-term care facilities are the epicenter of the crisis,” said Commissioner Mike Opat. “This is a call to action.”
Hennepin County so far has spent $5.3 million on COVID-19, much of it going to shelter in hotels homeless people who needed testing or isolation. The county has housed 374 homeless people and may use federal money to further fund the program.
Commissioner Jan Callison asked if the county might consider also using hotels to house long-term care facility residents with COVID-19 concerns.
Hough said some federal money might be used for that purpose.