An amendment in the contract between Lewis County and the Washington State Department of Health will mean an influx of over $2 million to Public Health and Social Services.
“Typically there’s one or two changes (to the contract), often some financial shift, but nothing as big as what we’re bringing forward today,” Public Health Director J.P. Anderson told county commissioners Monday.
The funding includes small amounts for the county’s nutrition program and response to Hepatitis C, an epidemic the county was battling before the onset of COVID-19 — but the biggest chunk is $1.5 million to respond to the coronavirus.
“There’s going to be lots of opportunity for creativity here,” Anderson said, noting that the purpose of the funding is fairly broad.
The county has used some CARES funding to cover salaries of staff who are “substantially dedicated” to responding to COVID-19 — language stipulated in the contract with the Department of Commerce.
And while Budget Manager Becky Butler said the county could choose to do a similar thing with the new funding, county officials also threw around other ideas. Anderson voiced support for reimbursing businesses and organizations for any personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased throughout the pandemic.
“Restaurants, medical health providers, schools, probably a very broad range of entities in the community could be reimbursed for those costs through our allocation,” Anderson said.
Butler also suggested the county purchase a bulk amount of PPE for businesses and organizations in the community to use throughout the year, while Commissioner Edna Fund asked what could be done to ramp up testing in the area, perhaps expanding testing in the east side of the county.
This month, county officials have been musing with the idea of a rental assistance program for individuals and families who don’t necessarily fall under the income line stipulated in other rental assistance programs. While Anderson has expressed interest in the potential program, or a program to help families with mortgages, he said he was unsure whether the money granted to public health could be legally used for such a program.
At the meeting, County Manager Erik Martin brought up a concern that officials have been grappling with statewide: the quickly-approaching deadline for jurisdictions to use the money. Anderson said the challenge of spending millions of dollars in just a few months is new to public health, and county officials are still waiting to hear if the deadline on federal funds will be extended into next year.
“I suppose it’s a good problem to have,” Martin said. “Obviously there’s some control at the national level, the federal level, so I’m just hopeful we get some word about a potential extension of these funds soon … this isn’t going to end abruptly any time soon, so we’re going to need those funds continuing on.”