Time is running out for Tulsa County to distribute the $113.7 million in CARES Act funding it received in the spring. The money is running short, too.
County officials said last week that with a month and a half left in the year, they’ve got between $17 million and $27 million left to allocate. What is not spent by Dec. 30 goes back to the federal government.
“The last thing that we want to do is send money back,” said County Clerk Michael Willis.
That seems unlikely. Of the funds yet to be allocated, $10 million has been pledged to the Tulsa Economic Development Corp. The county contracted with TEDC to administer its RESET program, which makes grants and forgivable loans available to small businesses and nonprofits to cover COVID-19-related costs.
The $2.2 trillion CARES Act was approved by Congress in late March. The measure includes funding for a wide range of COVID-19 relief efforts, including individual payments to American households, funding for the Public Broadcasting System and loans for large businesses.
The program also provided for payments to municipalities and counties of at least 500,000 people. In Oklahoma, that includes Oklahoma County, Oklahoma City and Tulsa County.
County commissioners have already allocated $50 million to the Resources to Empower Small Enterprises for Tomorrow program. As of late last week, TEDC had received more than 900 applications from small businesses and nonprofits totaling $59.4 million, and $41 million has been distributed to applicants, according to the county.
If the RESET program ends up needing the additional $10 million the county has pledged, which seems likely, that would leave $17 million for the county to distribute. And officials say the needs are there.
“It will go, there is no doubt in my mind,” said Terry Simonson, director of government affairs for Tulsa County.
The county has a short list of priorities for how the remaining funds could be spent, Simonson said. It includes reimbursing some county offices for overtime and other payroll expenses, purchasing personal protective equipment for distribution by Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency, and assisting the Tulsa Health Department with its ongoing needs.
The county also has requests for funding from the Gilcrease Museum, BOK Center, Tulsa Fire Department and other city entities totaling approximately $6 million.
“There is still a lot to sort through, there is a lot of work left to be done,” Willis said.
Willis estimated that the review committee that screens CARES Act funding applications set aside at least $20 million in requests because they either did not meet the criteria for funding or “it was a real, real, loose connection.”
Willis and Simonson are aware of the critics who have claimed the county has been too slow in distributing the relief funds and nitpicky in its documentation requirements. But they don’t agree with them.
If the county does not follow the federal government’s guidelines for distribution, he and the county commissioners will have to answer to federal auditors, Willis said.
“We are the ones who are actually on the hook. If we send $50,000 to the Smith City in Tulsa County, we have to ensure that that money is being spent correctly,” he said. “That has probably been the biggest challenge, just the amount of work we put in and our subrecipients have had to put in to make it work right.”
The county has provided upfront funding for some projects, Willis said, but in those instances the money was distributed incrementally and additional funds were not released until the county had receipts for the funds it had already allocated.
Willis said he’s pleased with how the county has managed the distribution of the COVID relief funds and praised TEDC for its work to ensure that local business and nonprofits received what they needed.
“They, frankly, have done a lot of leg work on this. ... They are set up to do that, so for us to have that partnership made a ton of difference," Willis said. "Because if we had been vetting all of those applications and handling all that, we would have had to handle 10, 15 people on a temporary basis.”
CARES Act funding
|Department summary||Approved amounts|
|David L Moss||$411,111.03|
|City of Bixby||$13,633.67|
|City of Jenks||$153,235.31|
|City of Tulsa||$572,992.67|
|City of Sand Springs||$84,183.15|
|City of Glenpool||$12,717.72|
|City of Owasso||$95,064.09|
|City of Broken Arrow||$85,690.63|
|City of Collinsville||$52,836.32|
|City of Skiatook||$29,387.67|
|Tulsa Housing Authority||$9,011,506.33|
|Tulsa Regional Tourism||$672,750.00|
|Juvenile Justice Center||$219,319.35|
|Tulsa Economic Development Corp||$50,000,000.00|
|Keystone Fire District||$25,461.36|
|Berryhill Fire District||$42,147.44|
|Tulsa County Assessor||$39,580.00|
|Tulsa Film,Music,Art, Culture||$362,000.00|
|Tulsa County Parks||$369,440.86|
|Tulsa Metro Chamber||$608,750.00|
|Downtown Coordinating Council||$756,950.00|
|Propeller - BOCC Application||$8,757.00|
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