By Barry Dalton
In March, Audrain County received CARES funding in the amount of $2.95 million to address and mitigate damages that have occured in the county due to COVID-19.
Eastern District Commissioner Alan Winders spoke to the Vandalia Board of Aldermen on Nov. 10 to explain more about how the funds have been distributed. The remainder of the funds must be used by the end of the year, Winders said.
The Audrain County Commission met with leaders and stakeholders from Vandalia and Mexico earlier in the year to discuss what should be done with the CARES money.
“What we decided, what we felt like, and I think it turned out to be absolutely spot on, is the economy is the thing that has been most negatively impacted,” Winders said. He added that he did not mean to minimize in any way the people who were afflicted with the virus or lost their lives but from a macro perspective the economy needed to be the focus of CARES funding.
So it was decided that the funds would be distributed in phases to try to boost the economy. Phase one was to help pay for things that businesses, local governments and nonprofits had to do to fight the disease. This included things like personal protective equipment (PPE), sneeze guards and other safety measures.
There were 79 applications approved for the first phase of funding with approximately $350,000 awarded.
Phase two went directly to help businesses make up for some costs that their normal revenue stream wouldn’t cover due to COVID-19. This was the rent, utilities and mortgage interest phase. Businesses were able to apply for money for the months of March through June. There were 87 applications approved and approximately $540,000 was awarded.
“There are still applications we’re trying to work through on phase one and phase two,” Winders said. “Of paramount importance to us is to make sure we don’t award money to a company and then have to turn around and take it back because we didn’t meet some guideline that the state made.”
Phase three is for mitigation. Not only to mitigate the coronavirus, but for viruses in the future. This could include things like touchless faucets and hand sanitation stations. These funds were available to government entities, nonprofits and private businesses.
There were 27 applications for Phase 3 mitigation and approximately $224,000 in funding was awarded.
Phase four is directed at nonprofits. For example, the fair grounds, the Lincoln School or the YMCA and many other examples.
“Nonprofits are not the economic drivers of the community but they are what build the fabric of the community,” Winders said. “This phase can’t make everybody whole but the idea is to keep, for example, the Farber Fun Fest from going under because they weren’t able to have it this year because of COVID. We can’t make them whole but maybe we can keep them alive for another year.”
Some funds went to the Mexico and Vandalia Chambers of Commerce to help market the availability of funds. The Arthur Center in Mexico received about $65,000 for an onsite COVID testing machine. The hospital foundation requested and received about $50,000 for the manufacture of hand sanitizer. Tri-County nursing home received assistance to help find state resources to assist with staffing. The Audrain County Health Department will receive “a large disbursement,” and the City of Vandalia has received about $3,500 so far.
Winders explained that some counties gave money to government agencies first and other counties have done businesses first. Audrain decided that government agencies should wait until after other areas of the economy are addressed.
“It’s been all over the board,” he said. “I’m very proud of the approach that we’ve taken…that we could do most to help the economy by distributing money to private business, nonprofits and those organizations involved directly in providing health services.”
There were a total of 223 applications received in all phases. Because everything needs to be wrapped up by the end of the calendar year, however, the county is no no longer accepting applications for any of the phases.