County recognizes law enforcement workers as public safety officers to help secure CARES Act grant fundsby J.D. Bailey on 10/06/20
Columbia County has now recognized its law enforcement workers as public health officials during the coronavirus pandemic. A resolution was passed Monday by local Quorum Court that designating the county employees as such.
The move was made to enable help the county to qualify for hazard pay grant monies passed down by the state. The funds are part of the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act Relief Bill that was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President in late March. Part of the monies in the coronavirus aid package was designated to provide financial relief for state and local governments through hazard pay to employees that have potentially been exposed to the virus as part of their job duties.
Law enforcement workers now recognized as public safety officers include Columbia County jailors, transport officers, certified law enforcement officers, bailiffs, coroners, and applicable 9-1-1 and law enforcement dispatchers. By acknowledging that these employees, the county qualifies for grant funds from the CARES Act.
Foster said Monday that $150 million from the federal relief package was appropriated to the state -- $75 million for county governments and $75 million for city governments -- to provide local aid during the coronavirus pandemic. Columbia County is eligible to recover nearly $676,000 for public safety expenses, according to the judge.
“What they’re allowing us to do is to recoup part, if not all, of the [public safety] salaries to help the counties out in the fight against COVID,” he said.
An Arkansas government committee must now approve the county’s grant request before it can be dispersed locally. To receive its share of the federal emergency funds, Columbia County must apply to the state and prove that its expenses were used for public safety.
If the law enforcement salary expenses are approved, the funds gained will go directly into Columbia County’s general fund, and hazard pay expenses will be reported back to the state for grant reimbursement, according to Foster.
“Basically, its given money,” said judge added. “They’re just giving it back to us, but we’ve got to prove that we used it and what we used it for.”
The county has until Oct. 15 to apply for CARES Act grant monies. If it is denied the first time, it can re-apply for the funds by Nov. 15. The relief funds issued to the state must be spent by the end of the year or they will be refunded back to the federal government, according to the judge.
When asked if the county was likely to receive the emergency relief funds, Foster replied, “We’re going to be caught trying.”