Ask now for local slice of $5.7M virus aid

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News

The Ellis County committee handing out $5.74 million in federal COVID-19 aid to Ellis County wants applications now.

Anyone getting the aid, which is being passed down to the county through the state of Kansas, must spend it before Dec. 30.

Any money not spent goes back to the state.

Local applications for reimbursement of COVID-19 expenses, or for direct aid for COVID-19, are due by noon Monday, Aug. 3.

“I really hope we get a lot of applications,” said J.D. Cox, Ellis County administrator, who assembled and leads the committee. “It just worries me that we would have money that would be left on the table and goes back to the state.”

Cox spoke last week at a Zoom meeting of the 26 members of the committee.

“With this group it will be very good at making sure that doesn’t happen,” said Walt Hill, executive director of High Plains Mental Health Center, who is a member of the committee.

With a tight federal- and state-imposed deadline, the committee has met twice via Zoom to devise a process to decide priorities, get the word out, take applications, and vet and rank applications.

At last Thursday’s Zoom meeting, it was decided that each member of the committee will review and rank each application.

From there, the Ellis County Commission will take a look at the applications the committee chooses for funding.

The commissioners have final approval at the local level, Cox said.

The county’s plan for spending the money is due to the state Aug. 15, for final approval.

“As far as I know, the rules are still kind of being written on this. It sounds like we do the initial submittal, then we have an opportunity to amend that after the fact,” Cox said. “Every jurisdiction in the state is still scratching their heads on what exactly that means.”

Sept. 15 is the final deadline for amendments, he said.

The 26 members are seeking applications that address basic and social needs, including socially connecting while physically distancing, aging, education and mental health.

In choosing applications for funding, they’ll give priority to those that have community impact, are action-oriented, include accountability, provide leadership, and offer equity and inclusion.

“I think it’s possible to kind of use this as a backdrop,” Hill said. “If there’s something missing as we’re seeing these, talk about that, and particularly if there’s some money left on the table, encourage some other brainstorming to put together some needs that aren’t going to be addressed. I think we’ll see some really good proposals.”

Ideas brainstormed at Thursday’s Zoom meeting included iPads for seniors to connect with their family members through video chats, hazard pay for health care workers, and incentive pay for volunteers and mental health workers with COVID-19-related duties.

A news release from the committee gave these examples of eligible expenses: personal protective equipment, telemedicine capability, COVID testing, technology that helps to improve distance learning and telework, sanitizing products, and grants to small businesses and nonprofits to reimburse the costs of business interruptions related to the virus.

The committee said items not eligible include any program outside Ellis County, damages covered by insurance, payroll not related to COVID-19, expenses covered by other grant programs, donated items or services, workforce bonuses, legal settlements, severance pay and lost revenue.

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Cox urged applications for anything not specifically on the list of things not eligible.

“I would encourage folks to go ahead and apply,” he said. “When we review the applications, we will determine eligibility for any that are questionable.”

Applications are at at the EllisCARES link, CRF County Direct Aid Program Application.

Recipients must sign a memorandum of understanding with the county in which they promise to spend the money by Dec. 30, track 100% of their expenditures, and report and provide documentation to the county for every expenditure.

“I feel like you’re going to get a lot of crossover anyway, a lot of overlapping,” said Sara Bloom, executive director of Downtown Hays Development Corp.

The committee decided earlier it will set aside $1 million of the money for unforeseen contingencies related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Cox said contingencies could include COVID-19 testing, so that “if things get bad that we have funds that we can actually manage the COVID crisis side of it, deal with the health side of it.”

Besides Cox and Hill, members of the committee include Hays Medical Center president and CEO Eddie Herrman; Fort Hays State University president Tisa Mason; Holy Family Elementary School principal Rachel Wentling; USD 489 superintendent Ron Wilson; Grow Hays executive director Doug Williams; Hays city manager Toby Dougherty; First Call for Help executive director Linda Mills; United Way of Ellis County executive director Erica Berges; Hays Area Chamber of Commerce director Sarah Wasinger; Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas president and CEO Jerry Michaud; County Extension agent Donna Krug; and Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Melissa Dixon.