Flathead County, Local Businesses Benefit from CARES Act

County health department has spent $160,000; local businesses receive millions

By Micah Drew
Flathead County Courthouse. Beacon file photo

When cases of the novel coronavirus first swept across Montana, the Flathead City-County Health Department went on a hiring spree.

As of July 1, the health department has spent nearly $160,000 on costs directly related to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is almost entirely staffing,” Flathead City-County Health Officer Hillary Hanson said. “We have not only had to move staff from programs to deal with COVID but were in a scenario of hiring temporary staff to do contact tracing and monitoring.”

Hanson said when the cases first cropped up in the county, there was a mass hiring of temporary workers, many who staffed an informational call center. When caseloads dropped and flat-lined for weeks, the health department went back to normal staffing.

“Now that we’re ramping back up, we’re in the process of rehiring,” said Hanson.

The health department has received two COVID-related funding grants, one for $311,000 and another for $118,000. Hanson expects to use all of the money.

“I hope not too quickly, because I think we’re in this for the long haul,” she said. “Part of what we’re trying to look at is if we’re spending the money wisely.”

If the grants are used up, additional reimbursements will be sought from the state’s coronavirus emergency funds, although Hanson is concerned that the pot will dry up at some point.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) act, a $2.2 trillion federal aid package that was passed by Congress in March, provided the state of Montana with $1.25 billion in economic assistance. Gov. Steve Bullock formed the Coronavirus Relief Fund Advisory Council to guide the state on how to best disseminate the funds to Montanans in need.

More than a dozen grant and assistance programs have emerged, ranging from a loan-deferment program and innovation grants to business stabilization and local government reimbursement programs.

The larger of the health department’s grants was issued through the state’s public health grant program.

There are four rounds of reimbursement funding for local governments. During the first round, which had an application deadline of June 12, $30 million was requested, according to the governor’s office. The next deadline for reimbursement submissions is July 17, which will take into account costs accrued through the end of the last fiscal year.

Flathead County did not apply for the first round of local government reimbursement, but county commissioners met with county Finance Director Amy Dexter at their meeting on Tuesday to approve a request for $1.7 million in reimbursements for the July 17 deadline.

The city of Kalispell received $958,812 in reimbursement funding and Columbia Falls received $138,290 in the first round.

As of July 9, businesses and organizations in Flathead County have received $8.8 million in financial assistance altogether from the state, including $6.1 million in Business Stabilization Grants and nearly $700,000 in Social Services and Nonprofit grants.

The CARES Act also included funding from the national level through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which allowed businesses and nonprofit organizations to apply for subsidized loans to keep workers on payroll.

Nearly 4.9 million loans totaling $521 billion had been issued as of June 30, according to data released by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). In Montana, a combined $1.8 billion in PPP loans has been distributed to more than 23,000 businesses and nonprofit organizations.

In Flathead County, more than 2,200 businesses and nonprofit organizations received PPP loans of less than $150,000, keeping 10,682 jobs on businesses’ payroll. An additional 234 businesses and nonprofit organizations received loans between $150,000 and $5 million, which accounted for another 10,401 jobs retained, according to the SBA.

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