HAMILTON COUNTY, Ohio — County officials are worried some of the $142 million the county received in federal aid could go unused if the language surrounding the funding is not loosened.
Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus said on Monday they have been “lobbying like crazy” to get federal lawmakers to change the language surrounding the grant money so it is less specific to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Driehaus said without the flexibility, some of the funds will go unused.
“It’s like, if you’re in a household, it’s like saying, ‘Alright, I'm going to give you the money, you can only spend it on masks, you can't keep the lights on, you can’t pay the utility bills, you can't pay the rent or the mortgage, so you're going to be sitting in the dark with the mask on,’” Driehaus said.
Congress made the money available last month to counties with more than 500,000 residents, and Hamilton County has used $4 to $5 million rehousing people experiencing homelessness in hotels, spreading out 911 dispatchers and purchasing personal protective equipment, Driehaus said.
Driehaus said the county needs to use those dollars to stabilize court business, sheriff patrols and restaurant inspections. The county could use the money to bring back furloughed workers; officials could also dole out the funding to some of the 49 cities, townships and villages in the county.
William A. Jetter, Deer Park’s safety service director, said the city could use funding to restart construction projects, reopen parks and help businesses that were forced to close.
“I mean right now we’re down $100,000, and that’s a lot of money for this small little town,” Jetter said. “And I am sure every community around us is down too.”
When it comes to the funding, Jetter said a one-size-fits-all approach does not work.
“We can get through this, together, all of us. But, we have got to have our legislators understand we have to have that flexibility, and that goes for the county, too,” Jetter said.
Leaders want Congress to make a decision this week. President Donald Trump will ultimately decide whether any changes will be made to the language.