There’s $150 million in CARES Act grants to local governments now available across New Mexico, but it’s not clear yet how local agencies will disburse those funds.
The money is essentially in two pots — one for local governments to recoup lost revenues due to unforeseen expenses caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency, and one to provide grants to local businesses hit hard during the pandemic.
Local administrators received notification of the funding on Tuesday, Sept. 1, and some are saying getting the money out to local businesses is going to take some time.
“We need commission approval on how to distribute the funds and criteria for distribution,” said Valencia County Manager Danny Monette. “There are a lot of processes to put in place.”
Monette said when the county applied for the funding it was unknown how much it would receive. Valencia County applied for $1 million to cover its own unexpected expenses, and $1.5 million to pass on to local businesses.
In total, the county received $1,016,500, of which $579,000 is available for local, small business grants.
“We will have the funds in hand before we distribute them; we’ve been down this road before where we’ve distributed money and not been able to get reimbursement,” Monette said. “This is going to take some planning. We want to get this money to businesses as quickly as possible.”
The city of Belen, which received $184,650 of the $475,000 it requested, is in the same boat, said Rosanne Peralta, interim city manager and finance director.
“The state is supposed to send out the grant award agreements (Tuesday), so we’ll see what specifications, if any, they have in them,” Peralta said. “From what I understand, when they announced the application process, the state said the cities would have to figure out how to distribute the money.”
Peralta said there have been internal discussions about grant requirements for businesses, but nothing has been decided. The city received $117,150 for small business grants.
“Will we do reimbursements? Will there be a cap? As we get the agreements, we’ll have to go from there,” she said. “It’s interesting in the announcement about the distribution, they say they gave everybody a score. During the application process, they didn’t tell us how they would score this.”
The village of Los Lunas requested a total of $1 million and received $389,225, of which $335,475 is allocated for businesses.
Los Lunas Village Administrator Greg Martin said he and his staff were also digesting the instructions and requirements of the grants in order to make sure the village meets and follows them as best it can.
“I can say this will be administered through our Community Development Department,” Martin said. “Our Economic Development and Community Development departments interface directly with our business community and I see it as well within their mission to assist businesses. Once we have specific information developed as far as the process, how and when to apply, we will be putting that out on our social media channels and to media outlets.”
According to a press release sent out on Tuesday announcing the distributions, the state Department of Finance and Administration scored applications based on criteria related to local government revenue lost due to expenses made responding directly to the health crisis.
The total amount of funding requested exceeded the funds made available by the federal government, so the awards were prorated based on need as explained in the application, the release read, adding that all requests for amounts less than $50,000 for direct local government grants were awarded in full.
“DFA has vast experience in scoring applications and scoring them fairly,” said Acting Finance and Administration Secretary Debbie Romero. “We were able to complete an expeditious and equitable process, and we’ll keep working with local governments all across the state to make sure these essential funds get out the door.”
DFA received 83 local government applications for the $100 million in CARES Act funding made available for local governments, and 66 applications for the $50 million made available for small business grants via local governments.
The total funding requested to cover unexpected expenses for local government was $183,725,281, and the request for small business grants was $106,387,630 in total; $99,830,299 was awarded to government agencies and $49,963,725 for business expenses.
According to the press release, eligible expenses were outlined explicitly in the application process to ensure they matched CARES Act requirements dictated by the federal government. New Mexico would be responsible to repay the federal government if an expense doesn’t fit the specific requirements.
Eligible expenses for local government grants:
• Small business continuity grants
• Child care assistance
• Purchase of personal protective equipment required to conduct government business
• Expenses incurred to mitigate the spread — sanitizing, public service announcements
• Public health and safety personnel costs for senior programs, corrections, police, fire and EMS
Eligible expenses for small business grants:
• Business continuity: Non-owner employee payroll, rent, scheduled mortgage payments, insurance, utilities and marketing
• Business redesign: Reconfiguring physical space, installing Plexiglas barriers, purchasing web-conferencing or other technology to facilitate work-at-home, PPE for employees and temporary structures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.