CINCINNATI — Erica Thomas knew in mid-2020 that her daycare, Beehive Learning Center, could reopen and observe COVID restrictions for about three more months before money started to run out. Four months would start to get uncomfortable. Six might be the end of the line.
The safety measures ordered by the Ohio Department of Health had reduced the number of children Beehive could accept at any given time while requiring extensive masking and cleaning procedures to keep them healthy. Thomas’s search for cleaning supplies — which she was buying in greater quantities and at higher prices than ever — took her on frantic trips to Dayton, Columbus and Indianapolis.
“We went immediately into spending money, pretty much money we did not have,” she said Thursday. “Money that was not budgeted to those things. Our budget is, each month we may spend this amount on cleaning supplies. When the pandemic hit, we were spending more than double on that.”
A $25,000 CARES check from Hamilton County saved the day in December.
“Big deal,” Thomas said. “Huge deal. If it had not been for that, I truly would not know which way we would be going, if our doors would remain opened.”
There was uncertainty about money on all sides when the pandemic began, assistant Hamilton County administrator Holly Christmann said the same day. When the county received its CARES funding to offset the financial hardship of existing with COVID-19, officials struggled to know which fires to extinguish first.
“It was very overwhelming, as you can imagine, at first, given the great needs that we saw in our community,” Christmann said.
By Thursday, Hamilton County had spent about $97 million of the $142 million in CARES funding it received from the federal government during 2020. Another $30 million is already spoken for, having been committed to various relief programs within county limits. The county has $10 million left over for future commitments.
The largest expenses haven’t been small businesses like Thomas’. Those account for about $7 million, plus a few hundred thousand for future relief.
Rent and utility assistance takes up a little under $4 million.
So where has the bulk of the money gone?
Public safety took the single largest bite out of the pot — $35 million for payroll and PPE to ensure Hamilton County corrections officers, sheriff’s deputies and 911 operators could work safely despite the pandemic.
Another $25 million went to various township and village governments within the county.
And Hamilton County’s testing and contact tracing program has been allocated a total of $18 million, although only $2 million had been spent by Thursday.
Smaller amounts are going toward projects such as providing public Wi-Fi, keeping arts and cultural organizations afloat, shoring up mental health services and supporting programs that serve people experiencing homelessness.
Christmann said all of the money is vital to keeping Hamilton County communities functional as many continue to struggle with the long economic recession caused by COVID-19.
"We couldn't have done that without these dollars,” she said.