Report by Paula Antolini, June 6, 2020, 10:18AM EDT
June 4, 2020
(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Ned Lamont today announced that his administration is establishing the Connecticut Municipal Coronavirus Relief Fund Program, which will set a process by which municipal governments will receive reimbursements from the state using the federally supported Coronavirus Relief Fund to offset their expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are certainly sympathetic to the needs of the municipalities during this unprecedented public health emergency and remain willing to assist them in offsetting their related expenses,” said Governor Lamont. “This first round of reimbursements to our towns and cities is only the beginning. This ongoing situation is dynamic, and we must adjust to the changing landscape in real time. Let there be no doubt, we are reimbursing municipalities for their full cost of their expenses to date, and we stand with them amid the continued efforts to protect our communities from this virus.”
“I can speak from experience as the former chief financial officer of Hartford that we understand how thinly municipal budgets are stretched in this environment,” said Melissa McCaw, Secretary of the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management (OPM), the state agency that will administer the program. “This is only a first step in addressing the municipalities’ direct costs related to the COVID-19 crisis through June 30. The towns and cities across this great state critically require this support through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, and will also be able to avail themselves to other federal and state programs to help with their expenses and hopefully we will soon see federal action that will allow us to backfill lost revenue at the state and local level as that is critically important but remains unaddressed by the four federal COVID relief bills to date.”
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In April, the Lamont administration asked all 169 municipalities to provide the state with information on their actual and projected expenses expressly related to combating the public health crisis from between March 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020. To date, municipalities have reported nearly $40 million in direct costs during this period. Federal rules prevent states from using the CARES Act funding to backfill lost government revenue and require the money to only be used for direct expenses related to the pandemic. To fund this program, the administration is setting aside $75 million and will re-evaluate this allocation for reimbursements beyond June 30.
OPM today sent a letter to every municipality in the state outlining the process for reimbursement under this program. The agency has also launched an informational website for municipalities, with the application portal to be open within the next several days.
In addition to this municipal reimbursement program, the state is using its share of CARES Act funding to cover the large costs associated with testing, the purchase of personal protective equipment, additional assistance to nursing homes, and increased state agency needs that will also directly and indirectly benefit municipalities.
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The Lamont administration also previously notified Connecticut’s towns and cities and their respective boards of education about $111 million that is available to them through the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund (ESSERF), which is also part of the CARES Act. These funds will help offset increased education expenses, which are typically the largest annual expense incurred by municipalities. This funding will complement the $27.8 million already announced for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and can be used to ensure each student has access to the technology and connectivity they need for remote learning, improving distance learning curricula, addressing how to safely reopen after the pandemic, and providing social and emotional supports for students. If municipalities and their respective boards of education have expenses beyond the amounts or eligibility of the ESSERF, they may then still apply for reimbursement under the Connecticut Municipal Coronavirus Relief Fund Program. There has also been a distribution of new Community Development Block Grant funds, Emergency Shelter Grant funds, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS, and direct Justice Assistance Grants to help with housing, shelter, and transition services for the impoverished, ill, and recently released from incarceration.
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities responded to Gov. Lamont’s remarks according to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities website. View comments below.
Editor note: First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker is a member of the Housatonic Resource Recovery Authority and on the Board of Directors of Connecticut Council of Small Towns (CCM) and also the President of Connecticut Council of Small Towns (CT COST).
According to the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities:
“The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities thanked Lamont in a statement Thursday, but noted that federal guidelines recommend states give municipalities as much as 45% of their Coronavirus Relief Fund allocations. Connecticut received $1.4 billion from this fund, and CCM noted 45% of that amount would represent about $630 million — far more than the state is giving municipalities.”
“Even though the rest of the world is hunkering down or slowly reopening under the pandemic, all municipal services must continue; lives depend on them,” the statement continued. “Connecticut municipal leaders and their property taxpayers continue to be burdened by unexpected and un-budgeted pandemic-related expenses –while local revenues steadily shrink.”
The executive director of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, Betsy Gara, said that “COST is very relieved that federal funding is on its way. … This funding will help municipalities reopen schools and town halls safely and position our communities for long-term social and economic recovery.“
“The other great wild card out there is the federal government,” Lamont said, referring to growing uncertainty about whether Congress will enact additional relief.
“The federal government can just borrow their way to prosperity” the governor added. Connecticut is constitutionally mandated to balance its budget.
McCaw also noted that the demand for federal relief funds exceeds the supply.
Of the $1.4 billion Connecticut has received to date through the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, state officials have designated about $650 million.
“There’s a very broad list and we’re going to continue to prioritize,” McCaw said.