How Allegheny County Spends its $212 Million CARES Package
Allegheny County unveiled a new COVID-19 testing center in McKeesport last week as health officials braced for the confluence of the coronavirus outbreak and the approaching flu season. The center, which can perform 200 tests a day, didn’t cost county taxpayers one dime.
It is the highest profile example to date of how the county is spending its $212 million share of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds.
The $2.2 trillion bill was signed into law on March 27, providing states, cities and counties with populations of 500,000 or more with millions of dollars to spend throughout in their battle with COVID-19. The money is restricted to covering costs related to the public health emergency that incurred after March 1 and that had not previously been budgeted.
Allegheny County has spent 35 percent of its share of the money so far. The county’s spending plan sets money aside to offset COVID-related costs incurred by its departments and operations, shore up medical responses, and help vulnerable populations, emergency medical services, arts and cultural organizations and others weather the pandemic.
Here is a summary of where the money is going:
Nearly $58 million is earmarked to help low-income residents and other vulnerable populations through the pandemic. County departments get the largest share to cover pandemic-related responses, such as quarantine housing, homelessness prevention, child protection and assistance for low-income families having trouble paying rent and utility bills.
Also included is $4 million in food relief to address the surge of people seeking help from food banks around the county. Another $4.4 million is set aside to help essential workers with additional child-care costs.
Three months into the year, the Allegheny County Health Department was confronted by the worst public health crisis in more than a century and found itself coordinating a response. Nearly $45 million of the $52 million set aside for medical response is assigned to help pay for Health Department COVID prevention, treatment and surveillance efforts. Emergency services and the county’s Kane Community Centers also get a share.
Since the start of the pandemic, 38 coronavirus cases have been confirmed at the Allegheny County Jail, which has held an average of 2,400 inmates a day this year. The jail gets $6 million of the $42 million set aside for personal protective equipment, cleaning, reconfiguring facilities and other steps taken by various county operations as they adapt to the pandemic, including the courts and emergency services.
Nearly $24 million in CARES funding addresses county agency costs incurred during the pandemic, including cleaning and sanitizing Port Authority buses, trains and stations, and covering pandemic-related employee absences. The Sports and Exhibition Authority also receives a share for maintaining the David L. Lawrence Convention Center as an emergency shelter.
Museums, libraries, arts organizations and other amenities that enrich the quality of life in the county have taken a beating during the pandemic, which has led to cancelled events, closures and a smaller share of Regional Asset District subsidies, due to a drop in sale tax revenues. Some $12 million in CARES funds are being distributed by the RAD board to help those organizations with their COVID-related costs.
The pandemic has begun to erode fees, wage tax receipts and other revenues municipalities rely on, leaving them little, if any, extra dollars to spend on unbudgeted costs related to the outbreak. Some $12 million in CARES funding is reserved to help boroughs, townships and cities address those costs. Also included is aid to volunteer fire departments and emergency medical services, each of which can claim up to $25,000.