By Mary Hladky
Southeastern Palm Beach County cities and towns are likely to receive a total of almost $50 million from the nearly $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill approved by Congress on March 10.
The massive American Rescue Plan earmarks $130.2 billion for local governments nationwide. Half the money goes to counties and half to cities.
Boca Raton stands to receive $11.22 million, Delray Beach $13.24 million and Boynton Beach $14.91 million, according to estimates released by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Briny Breezes can expect $240,000, Gulf Stream $410,000, Highland Beach $1.65 million, Lantana $5.29 million, Manalapan $200,000, Ocean Ridge $820,000 and South Palm Beach $620,000.
Palm Beach County’s share is $290.3 million.
But the money isn’t pouring in yet.
Municipal leaders as of March 26 were awaiting guidance from the U.S. Department of the Treasury on how the money can be used and how they will submit eligible expenses.
The Treasury Department is required to send out 50% of municipal allocations within 60 days of the bill’s enactment. The second half will come about one year after the first disbursement.
Municipal leaders are thrilled that they will be compensated for expenses they incurred during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m pleased that Congress recognized the great need of cities for assistance in responding to the pandemic,” said Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer. “This act recognizes that cities like Boca Raton are on the front line of response and they should be reimbursed for our contributions to our public safety and recovery efforts.”
The pandemic put a strain on city budgets and many dipped into reserves to cover unexpected costs.
One of the biggest was overtime paid to police, fire-rescue and other essential personnel filling in for co-workers who contracted COVID-19 or had to quarantine when they were exposed to someone with the illness.
Cities lost revenue from typical sources such as user fees when people opted to shelter in their homes to stay healthy. They had to pay substantially more for personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves for employees and enhanced sanitation procedures.
Unexpected expenses included setting up inoculation sites in January when some cities received small allocations of vaccine from the county office of the Florida Department of Health.
Boynton Beach and Boca Raton spent city funds to give grants to small businesses struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.
Before the bill was passed, cities were entitled to some relief from the 2020 federal CARES Act. Boca Raton, for one, received nearly $900,000.
Once municipalities receive guidance from the Treasury Department, they will make decisions on how to spend the federal money.
Boynton Beach has started the process. City Manager Lori LaVerriere told city commissioners on March 16 that she has formed an internal work group and will bring spending recommendations to the commission on April 6.
The Briny Breezes Town Council told Town Manager William Thrasher on March 25 to investigate how much the town might be eligible to receive and if it could be used to replace some problematic water mains.
Municipal leaders already have a general idea what they can use the money for because it is outlined in statutory language. The bill is intended to be flexible and gives governments until the end of 2024 to spend the money.
It allows cities and towns to use the funds to cover costs incurred responding to the public health emergency and to replace tax dollars lost during the pandemic.
It also supports economic recovery by allowing cities and towns to provide financial assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, and to impacted industries such as tourism, travel and hospitality.
They also can make investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, according to the house oversight committee.
The Treasury Department will send the money directly to cities with populations of at least 50,000. For smaller cities and towns, the money will go to the state to distribute.
Jane Smith, Mary Thurwachter and Dan Moffett contributed to this story.