County now expecting less FEMA grant money than hoped for

Boyle County will have spent all of its allotted federal economic impact grant by the end of this month. Officials are bracing for a significant decrease in FEMA money they were expecting to receive to help offset extra expenses incurred while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the fiscal court meeting last week, County Treasurer Keagan Hinkle said, “The last of the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) money is all taken care of.” He added that he was about to submit the last $135,000 reimbursement request to CARES. The county was allotted a total of $1,230,429 of reimbursement grants to cover pandemic-related salaries that have already been paid.

Hinkle said county building inspector Rusty Cox had been working on the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) grant application when he recently discovered the agency had made many changes in the grant process.

County Judge-Executive Howard Hunt said FEMA had changed its reimbursement rules and requirements “dramatically and it is not advantageous to the public. … It will dramatically affect what we can get back in a huge way.”

Magistrate Jamey Gay said, “We need to look out and explore and get our heads around what our options are because this is going to get worse before it gets better.”

On Tuesday, Cox said FEMA’s plan to help governments cover more coronavirus expenses “sounded pretty good,” at first, back in the summer. “Then in October, FEMA changed guidelines mid-stream.”

He said he had wanted to submit the county’s FEMA application in November. “But now I can’t do much until every cent of CARES money is spent. … Then they’ll (FEMA) see about paying after that,” Cox said.

Cox said in 2009 he filled out Boyle County’s FEMA grant application following the devastating ice storm that hit the area. He said filling out that application was much broader and encompassed many more aspects than the one he’s working on for COVID reimbursements. But it was easier to understand the guidelines than the current application process.

Recently he watched a PowerPoint presentation about the FEMA grants, “And it’s very contradictory.” Cox said one slide would say one thing and a few slides later it would give contradictory information. So he’s having two other county officials watch the same presentation. “I need two more heads helping to figure this out.”

He said his interpretation was that the county would be receiving “less and less every day.”

FEMA has also assigned counties “liaison people” to help them fill out the applications. “But it hasn’t been that great so far,” Cox said.

Hinkle said the county does have $200,000 set aside in its budget to cover unexpected expenses because, “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”