Metro Atlanta’s southside communities may soon get millions in federal coronavirus aid that they were ineligible for earlier this year because their populations were too small.
Gov. Brian Kemp’s office said Monday that counties such as Clayton, Fayette and Henry and their various cities can now tap into more than $30 million in CARES Act funds to help each address the impact of COVID-19.
That means that every city, from Stockbridge and its 30,000 or so residents in Henry County to the 559 people in Brooks in Fayette County, can expect help in the expenses the cities are incurring as the coronovirus continues to wreak havoc on Georgia’s economy.
“We definitely appreciate the money and can put it to good use for our citizens and our efforts to combat COVID-19,” said Clayton County Commission Chairman Jeff Turner. Unincorporated Clayton is eligible for about $12.2 million in aid.
“With what we’re up against it never feels like it’s enough, but I’m happy we are getting the help,” he said.
The funding mechanism is a departure from earlier eligibility criteria, which limited the aid to communities of 500,000 or more, which meant only the city of Atlanta and Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties qualified.
The money is part of $1.23 billion the state is releasing to cities and counties across Georgia that did not qualify for the first round of funding in March. In total, Georgia received about $4.1 billion in federal funds through the CARES Act for coronavirus-related expenses, allocating about $1.8 billion of that to local governments.
Smaller communities will get immediate access to about 30% of their total funds, which they must spend by Sept. 1 or the state will use it for other purposes, the governor’s office said. The remaining 70% will be used to reimburse expenses the smaller communities incur because of the virus.
Henry County leaders said the impact of the virus has been broad and that will be reflected in how they spend their portion of CARES Act funding.
“Henry County plans to apply the funds toward expenditures incurred that were initially used to respond to the emergency,” Henry County Finance Director David Smith said in an email. “We will also address business interruptions caused by closures of small businesses, will work to assist local non-profits and provide emergency assistance for families and individuals that have been directly impacted by loss of income during this crisis.”
Stockbridge City Manager Randy Knighton said the money is critical because the devastation the virus has brought was unforeseen.
“We are certainly appreciative of the opportunity to take advantage of the funding that’s been provided in service to the our citizens,” he said. “We are all doing our best to operate during this pandemic and beyond.”
Randy Ognio, chairman of the Fayette County Commission, said he too is thankful for the funding assistance, but wants to make sure the county is only getting what it needs. Peachtree City, for instance, may need more help than Fayette, the county it sits in, because it lost revenue when the city’s hotels were shuttered. Fayette County does not have hotels.
“Like everything else, we want to be responsible,” he said. “We want to be reimbursed for what we legitimately spent on the COVID stuff.”
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