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Jackson County to receive $42.9 million in federal aid

Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta
Money comes with restrictions on how it can be spent

Jackson County will get $42.9 million from the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress, but the money comes with strings attached on how it can be spent.

Local governments can’t use the money to provide tax cuts, make debt payments, build their rainy day reserves or pay for unfunded public employee pension obligations.

A U.S. Treasury Department frequently-asked-questions guide to using the money is 27 pages long.

Local governments that don’t spend the money correctly will have to repay it.

“There’s a lot of risk in making decisions on what qualifies and what doesn’t and why,” said Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan.

The city of Medford will get nearly $18.3 million, while the city of Ashland will receive $4.6 million, according to the Treasury Department.

Smaller cities in Jackson County will get federal money funneled to them through the state.

Approved this spring, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is meant to speed up the nation’s recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It provides $350 billion for city, county, state and tribal governments.

By the end of August, Jackson County needs to come up with a plan for spending its $42.9 million share. Money has to be appropriated by the end of 2024, said Jackson County Senior Deputy County Administrator Harvey Bragg.

“We want to make sure that we’re effective and we’re efficient with the money,” he said. “We want to make sure that we’re good stewards of the money that’s being sent to us by the federal government to be able to respond to COVID-19.”

Jackson County officials said they’ll watch how the state and cities in the Rogue Valley decide to spend their money so efforts aren’t duplicated.

“This isn’t free money. This is going to be paid for by tax dollars one way or the other,” Bragg said.

Local governments can use the money to respond to COVID-19 through vaccination programs, contact tracing and other steps.

The money can’t easily be used for infrastructure projects such as building and maintaining roads, constructing a larger Jackson County Jail or building an improved Jackson County Animal Shelter.

Jackson County has identified $8 million in revenue losses caused by the pandemic. Only an amount equal to revenue losses can be used for infrastructure such as roads and buildings.

A major exception to that rule is spending on water and sewer systems or to extend internet services. Many cities struggle to afford the massive costs of water and sewer system upgrades, and internet became a more crucial service than ever during an era of online school and remote work.

Governments can also make improvements to buildings, such as upgrading ventilation systems, to reduce risk from the COVID-19 virus.

Local governments can provide aid to households in the form of money or help with food, rent, utilities, home repairs, weatherization, burials, job training, internet access and other needs.

Governments can fund housing, child care and educational services.

To get more people working again, governments can offer back-to-work cash bonuses to unemployed people, job training, transportation and child care.

Governments can provide aid to small businesses with fewer than 500 employees and nonprofit organizations that face financial hardship.

They can cover the costs of pay and benefits for police, deputies, firefighters, public health workers, social services workers and others who spend more than half of their time responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.