Smaller Nevada communities have not received U.S. relief funds
As Congress negotiates a second coronavirus aid package, every local government in Nevada besides Clark County and Las Vegas is waiting for relief money the state received from the U.S. government. The delay has stymied local response efforts amid rising virus cases, officials say.
The relief package passed in March sent $150 billion to state and local governments. It disbursed funds directly to cities and counties with more than 500,000 residents and asked states to distribute funds to smaller jurisdictions.
Gov. Steve Sisolak said June 11 that $149 million of Nevada’s $1.25 billion in coronavirus rescue money would go to smaller cities and counties on a per capita basis.
But local officials awaiting the funds say the pass-through mechanism has delayed the delivery of relief dollars and hampered their ability to help small businesses, purchase medical supplies and provide services as staff transitions to remote work.
Last week, the governor sent paperwork outlining that, once disbursed, half the funds must be spent before Sept. 1 and all by Dec. 31. Cities and counties will be paid after the Governor’s Finance Office processes eligibility paperwork, Sisolak’s spokeswoman Meghin Delaney said Wednesday.
The federal government sent $295 million of Nevada’s rescue money to Clark County and $119 million to Las Vegas. Under Sisolak’s formula, which treats cities and counties the same, Eureka County will receive $371,000, Washoe County will receive $20 million and the city of Reno will get $47 million.
Delays have set the stage for similar quarrels between state and local officials across the United States for months, including in Arizona and Idaho.
In rural central Nevada, Eureka County Commission Chair J.J. Goicoechea said it’s unfair larger jurisdictions received funds earlier and directly from the federal government.
“It’s seemed like another unnecessary hurdle,” he said. “I don’t know why we’re any less important than someone who lives in a county with over 500,000 people.”
Treasury Department rules require cities and counties to spend relief dollars only on pandemic-related expenses. Local officials who have not received the money say knowing how much federal aid is coming helps them better plan.
Washoe County Manager Eric Brown said the reimbursement procedure wasn’t unlike past emergencies, when the county was reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The county has already funded pandemic-related services without federal relief dollars, he said.
Being just under the population threshold isn’t ideal, said Brown, whose county has 465,000 people. He said he would rather directly receive rescue money.
“It’s a little frustrating that we’re just below the threshold, that we provide the array of safety-net services that we do and aren’t able to benefit in the same way as Clark County does,” he said.
Treasury guidelines allow states to determine how to divvy up federal money.
In Nevada’s two largest metros, the amount of rescue money county governments received varied. Clark County, home to Las Vegas, got federal funds worth $132 per resident. Washoe County, home to Reno, was allocated $43 per resident, despite providing largely the same services as Clark County.
The Clark County Commission voted July 7 to allocate $57 million of its tranche to Boulder City, Henderson, Mesquite and North Las Vegas, after confusion over whether relief dollars should come from the state or county, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
North Las Vegas City Manager Ryann Juden said it is difficult to see the city of Las Vegas provide small business relief while his city waits for the aid. The virus has hit the minority-majority community of 245,000 especially hard.
Juden said the city’s inability to directly receive federal funds has limited the support his government can provide. “Let’s say there’s a community need related to COVID, if I respond to that with budget dollars, we’re having to cut that somewhere else. I’m having to do real-time prioritization,” he said.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/ Report for America Statehouse News Initiative.