With county expenses to combat the coronavirus increasing and the opportunity to spend federal funding dwindling, Miami-Dade County commissioners have found a way to keep unspent CARES funds.
Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution Friday that will divert any remaining unspent federal relief funds to the county to pay for pandemic-related expenses.
CARES Act funds are meant to pay for local and state government programs and expenses related to COVID-19. Whatever monies are unspent by Dec. 30 are taken back by the federal government. Just three weeks ago, commissioners were fretting that they would have to return hundreds of millions of dollars.
According to the latest summary of coronavirus relief allocations, out of the $474 million in CARES funding the county received and allocated to specific programs in the community, just under $202 million was spent.
Commissioner Joe Martinez, the resolution’s sponsor, said it guarantees that any leftover grant money will be used to pay for the county’s COVID-19 expenses, “so we can cover ourselves in the end, so we don’t have to dip into reserves, so we don’t have to raise taxes.”
Deputy Mayor Ed Marquez pointed out that the county has already gone over budget on direct initiatives related to COVID-19. Marquez said that although $61 million was budgeted for “COVID regional and municipal services by county,” more than $112 million has been spent in that area. The county projects that another $52 million will be spent on government expenses related to COVID-19.
Marquez said the figure includes “the cost of various services to the public,” including food distribution, hazard pay, administrative leave, and the cost of constructing physical barriers in county offices and facilities. In addition, the county is still building the infrastructure necessary for 7,650 employees to work from home.
“All told, there is a negative $103 million balance,” he said.
The financial impact of COVID-19 on county operations will likely rise in the coming months as the coronavirus continues to spread. According to the county’s latest COVID-19 dashboard, 9.25% of the people who were tested for the coronavirus on Nov. 11 were positive. That’s higher than the 14-day average of 6.81%. The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital increased from 412 on Oct. 30 to 529 as of Nov. 12. Deputy Mayor Jennifer Moon noted there were 55 ambulance calls related to COVID-19 on Nov. 12 as well.
“As the medical experts told
us, we are having a spike,” Moon said. “We are seeing an uptick in hospitalizations. We are expected to hit a peak, probably by the third week of November, sometime around Thanksgiving.”
The county’s latest summary also stated that, aside from regional and municipal expenses, Miami-Dade was on pace to allocate an additional $238.5 million on programs such as basic needs assistance, businesses and nonprofit support, grants to municipalities, contact tracing and testing, rental assistance and “vulnerable communities projects.”
But in case there’s any money left, commissioners Eileen Higgins and Martinez pushed for two resolutions diverting any unspent CARES funds to the Short-Term Hardship Assistance Program. Administered by the United Way, the program provides funds to individuals and families affected by COVID-19 to help pay for food, utilities, childcare, medical expenses and rental assistance. So far, $20 million has been allocated to the program.
The commission also unanimously passed a resolution proposed by Commissioner Rebeca Sosa that would give up to $3 million in unspent CARES funds to health care workers who are exposed to COVID-19. The money would come in the form of hazard pay.
Additionally, Commissioner Sally Heyman proposed a last-minute resolution that would give Cambridge-based Nanobiosym Diagnostics up to $5 million in CARES funds to help develop a COVID-19 test that uses saliva, and to create a “viral load database” that would help “determine safe standards to reopen Miami-Dade County businesses and schools.”
Heyman claimed Nanobiosym was working directly with Florida International University and the University of Miami “through our hospital system” to develop the test and database.
“It would be based here in Miami and, for all of us raising issues on why an entire industry has to be closed versus a certain venue versus times, we will put science behind that decision,” Heyman declared.
Heyman’s resolution passed, although Commissioner Danielle Levine-Cava, who took office as county mayor on Nov. 17, voted against it.
“I don’t know if there will be $5 million available for the research,” she said.