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Many Lansing-area municipalities got CARES Act money. Some gave it back.

Clinton County Courthouse
Posted at 11:09 AM, Apr 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 11:09:28-04

CLINTON COUNTY, Mich. — When Mindy Thomas, the treasurer for the village of Maple Rapids, received the $3,339 CARES Act check in September, she didn't even know what it was.

"When the check first came, we didn't even know what it was for, to be honest with you...we had at that point gotten very little notice it was even coming," Thomas said. "I started researching what we could use the money for... and there were limits on what you could use it for. It was quite a bit of limitation.

The CARES Act, which passed in March 2020, sent $5.8 million in grant money to Lansing-area municipalities this fall to help cover costs incurred from the pandemic. The money had to be spent on "necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency," such as payroll for public safety and public health personnel or personal protective equipment.

Some communities gave it back.

"So, it couldn't have been in our budget before, so it had to be a new expense, and then if you read through the whole public act information, which was pages long, there was limitations there, too, as to what you could and couldn't use it for," Thomas said. "I contacted other local treasurers that we work with from time to time and we couldn't find any expenses that we...I mean, the only expense we had was our online meetings, and that was minimal. So, I took it to council, and we decided it probably wasn't worth the paperwork."

It was a unanimous decision, and Maple Rapids sent the entire grant back to the federal government. Had there been looser restrictions on what the grant could have been used for, Thomas said, the village would have used it for government payroll and to cover the loss from residents' unpaid water bills since the pandemic began.

"I mean we still have people who haven't, because we can't turn their water off, they're not paying their water bills," Thomas said.

Clinton County Administrator Controller Craig Longnecker was the deputy administrator for the county when it received its four CARES Act grant payments, totaling more than $1,300,000. The county spent most of it on public safety, public health, hazard pay and supplies such as personal protective equipment and disinfectant. The county returned $19,000 to the federal government.

"The criteria was very strict and you needed to identify payroll reimbursement that provided additional safety and was related to the public health crisis," Longnecker said. "We identified what we could and that's what was eligible."

In March, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was passed. It is unknown how much money each municipality will receive.

"We're anticipating we'll receive in the neighborhood of $15 million," Longnecker said, "but I think that may be a high number because I think they're going to have to recalculate it and include some of the villages they left out."

They don't know how they'll use it. The problem is, Longnecker said that the county has not yet gotten specific guidelines from the U.S. Department of Treasury on how they can spend the money.

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