Cape officials are awaiting more specifics about how much they can expect from the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed into law last week by President Joe Biden, but officials already are thinking ahead to how the funding might be spent.
The plan will include $25.5 million for towns on the Cape, and another $43.1 million for Barnstable County. Funding is earmarked in the federal relief package for schools, housing, unemployment and health care, among other areas.
More benefits from stimulus package:What you can expect from COVID-19 relief package on Cape Cod
The historic package is the largest infusion of funding yet addressing the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and the resulting economic effects of it, according to U.S. Rep. William Keating, D-Mass..
And “with all of this unfolding, there is so much not defined yet,” Keating said last week.
What will Cape Cod towns do with the money?
The Cape’s smaller towns, such as Truro, Wellfleet, Chatham and Provincetown, will be receiving between $200,000 to $600,000 each, Keating said. Larger towns such as Barnstable, Yarmouth and Falmouth will receive$3 million to $7 million each in federal funding through the package, he said.
“It is great that the town is going to get some funding directly from the federal government,” Sandwich Town Administrator George “Bud” Dunham said. “We don’t know what we would use that for yet.”
Dunham said there is typically a list of restrictions or limitations placed on what the money can be used for. Those details haven’t been worked out yet, he said.
It is also not clear when the town will receive the funds, Dunham said. Half of it could be coming within the next six weeks and the other half next year. He believes the town will have until 2024 to use the money.
Dunham said the funding will help cover the cost of the town’s higher-than-normal 911 emergency responses as well as fire department overtime. That overtime increased this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic because department staff had to cover members who were out on quarantine.
And while the town is in good financial shape, Dunham said, it is unclear what Sandwich will receive in state aid next year. He said the relief funding could be used to help cover any fiscal shortfalls.
Falmouth Town Manager Julian Suso said the town has informally been told it can expect to receive about $3 million through the bill, but that an exact number has yet to be confirmed.
When the town gets that confirmation, the Select Board will discuss in public session how the money will be spent, he said.
“Given the multiple unforeseen challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, any and all federal or state assistance is indeed welcomed,” Suso wrote.
The town is still trying to figure out the exact amount of money coming to its coffers and what rules and regulations will be attached to it, interim Town Manager Robert Lawton said.
The town plans to use the money to address needs brought on by the pandemic, Lawton said. Past pandemic funding has gone toward buying laptops so employees could work remotely.
As summer approaches, some money also might go toward providing additional staffing at town beaches to ensure social distancing and crowd control, Lawton said.
It’s possible the town could set aside some money to create a sewer fund.
“We are very eager to put money aside so (that project) will have as low an impact on taxes as possible,” Lawton said.
Barnstable County Commissioner Mark Forest said the county’s top priorities include water, wastewater and broadband expansion.
“The priorities outlined in the statute are in sync with the priorities on Cape Cod,” Forest said.
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County officials plan to use the federal funds to try to slow down the pandemic while also addressing economic impacts and rebuilding the economy, Forest said. He added there will be significant dialogue between the county and municipalities on how the county can help.
Funds for school reopenings
Within the relief package is $130 billion — including over $1.83 billion for Massachusetts — to help schools nationwide reopen to students, teachers and staff full time. These funds can be used for such things as reducing class sizes, modifying spaces so students and teachers can socially distance, improving ventilation, providing personal protective equipment, and providing summer school or other support for students to make up for lost learning time this year.
The plan also provides resources for higher education, Head Start and child care facilities.
Sandwich Public Schools received approximately $1.6 million from the December stimulus bill, Superintendent Pamela Gould said. She said she did not have much information about what the district can expect from the latest package, except to say that it will be more.
Gould said the bulk of the relief money will likely go toward updating the schools’ aging HVAC systems to allow for better airflow. Other funds will be put toward personal protective equipment, technology equipment and continued upgrades to facilities.
“It will get spent,” said Gould. “This money is not going to waste, I can promise you that.”
School officials in Bourne also know little about what they can expect in terms of funding.
The district is planning for a full reopening in April. Bourne School Superintendent Kerri Anne Quinlan-Zhou said the money will be used to help students and staff with the transition back into full-time in-school learning.
“The effects of the pandemic will be felt by students going forward and these funds will assist us with a robust recovery and acceleration plan for our students both academically and in support of their mental health,” she said in an email.
Cape’s acute housing needs targeted
Keating said the law includes $30 billion to help renters and landlords nationwide weather economic losses.
The state’s eviction moratorium ended in October. In January, more than 150 evictions, mainly for nonpayment of rent, began to work through the local courts.
The Housing Assistance Corp. in Hyannis is anticipating upwards of $5 million to $10 million to come from the COVID-19 relief package, CEO Alisa Magnotta said.
The housing agency has already given out $2 million since March 2020 and $1 million in January and Februaryto help residents cover their rent, Magnotta said.
“The need is increasing and the balances that people owe are pretty significant,” said Magnotta.
Winter is traditionally the hardest time for year-round Cape residents, Magnotta said. Many people this year weren’t able to save enough money through seasonal jobs, she said, and many of those who did work only had part-time jobs. Child care also presented problems for some, she said.
The region’s hot housing market has put additional stress on a market that already was facing a housing shortage prepandemic. But Magnotta said she is finding that residents want to stay on the Cape, and the latest relief funding will help tenants catch up on back rent.
“We are going to need (the funding) and we are going to use it and spend it through the next year for sure,” Magnotta said.
What you can also expect from relief package
Families and Individuals
- Most Americans earning up to $75,000 will receive a $1,400 check.
- Child tax credit expanded up to $3,600 per child
- Expansion of premium subsidies for people who buy health insurance on their own instead of getting it from an employer or government programs like Medicare or Medicaid.
For example, for a family of four with parents making $75,000 a year combined — and with kids in school aged 5 and 8 — they would soon be given $5,600 in direct payments: $1,400 for each parent and child. Because of the expanded Child Tax Credit, the family also would get $2,600 more in tax credits than before.
- Extension of a $300 weekly federal boost to unemployment benefits through August, on top of the state’s unemployment benefits.
- Access to the Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) program will be available for the duration of the health emergency, including through the summer, to allow families with children receiving school meals to purchase healthy food more easily during the pandemic, according to the USDA.
- A 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will be extended for all participants through September. That amounts to about $28 per month per person, with $1.15 billion allocated for the cost of state administrative expenses.
- $880 million to deliver expanded access to more fruits and vegetables for mothers and babies, and investments in innovation to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
- $37 million nationwide allocation for senior nutrition through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
Small business, restaurants and hospitality industries
- $50 billion in funding nationwide for small-business assistance.
Through Economic Injury Disaster Loan grants and an expansion of the Paycheck Protection Program, there will be targeted funding for small businesses.
Keating said the new bill gives restaurants and hospitality businesses more flexibility to apply for funds. Another $5 billion will go directly to small restaurants with less than $500,000 a year in business.
Vaccinations, contract tracing, and testing
- $160 billion for vaccine development, distribution and related needs
The bill also includes $7.6 billion nationally for community health care, which is a big part of the system on the Cape and Islands, Keating said.
Cape Cod Healthcare President and CEO Michael Lauf said in a conference call prior to the bill being signed into law that Cape Cod Healthcare doesn’t expect much from the bill, which he called “shortsighted.”
Relief money for hospitals was addressed in the December package of the relief act, Keating said. The new bill focuses on workforce issues, frontline workers and health service workers who lost their jobs, he said.
Contact Beth Treffeisen at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @BTreffeisenCCT.