State Sen. Caleb Rowden is disappointed with how Boone County has handled $21.2 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
“Boone County’s online CARES relief portal has fallen behind,” he wrote Sept. 4 on Medium.com. “Over three months after receiving CARES Act relief funds from the State, the county has still not made those dollars available to help struggling Mid-Missourians.”
County Commissioner Janet Thompson took issue with his statement. She said over $2 million was sent to two organizations: the Boone County Department of Health and Columbia Public Schools.
“Perhaps Sen. Rowden should actually contact the Boone County Commission to find out exactly what we’re doing,” she said.
A dispute over facts? That’s our specialty.
After digging into the question, we found that the county had not actually given out any CARES funds by Sept. 4, although some of the money has been promised. So when did Boone County receive the money, and what happened to it?
The money trail
When reached for comment, Rowden pointed to a variety of sources to back his claim, including news articles published by the Columbia Missourian, a press release issued by the Missouri Governor’s office and a summary of House bill 2014, which Rowden voted for in the Missouri Senate.
Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act on March 27. It gave money to states, and Missouri, in turn, gave some of those funds to every county plus St. Louis City to help offset economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic. The state bill that authorized disbursement of CARES money, HB 2014, was signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson on April 10. Boone County received $21.2 million, which must be completely spent by Dec. 31 or the entire amount will be returned to the state.
Parson announced May 4 that the money had been sent. Two days later, Boone County received the money.
On July 16, Boone County commissioners said they were looking at buying software to build a portal for relief applications from organizations and the general public. The commissioners said it would likely be ready within a month, according to previous Missourian reporting.
On Aug. 28, the Missourian reported Thompson’s announcement that the online portal would be ready for applications within a few weeks.
At the time that state Sen. Rowden made his statement Sept. 4, the portal was not online. By Sept. 9, the portal had been made available.
So ... Where’s the money?
In an email, Thompson said the commission had spent $2.1 million on requests from the Boone County Department of Health and to Columbia Public Schools as a proxy to the other five school districts in Boone County.
What did Thompson mean by spent? “If by ‘spent,’ you mean out the door/in another entity’s hands, that is what was ‘spent’ as of September 6, 2020,” Thompson wrote.
But was it? Not according to the Boone County Health Department and county records.
On Aug. 11, the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services was approved to receive $1.8 million to hire 40 full-time employees through December. These employees included disease investigators, contact tracers, health educators, data analysts and communicable disease specialists. The money was also to pay for additional COVID-19 testing, especially for uninsured and under-insured individuals.
Health Department Assistant Director Scott Clardy said in a Sept. 11 interview that money had not yet been received from the county, as the Health Department had to submit an invoice to the county and later get reimbursed.
Meanwhile, all six Boone County school districts requested $322,800 for 1,345 Wi-Fi hotspots. The county commission approved the request on Aug. 20. The $322,800 was to be pre-paid by CPS and reimbursed by the county.
According to district spokesperson Michelle Baumstark, the Board of Education approved the purchase agreement for the hotspots, using CARES funding, on Sept. 14.
The CARES Act money is designated to be sent out as reimbursements, upon “provision … of adequate documentation showing appropriately incurred expenses,” according to the county orders that approved the money to both Columbia Public Schools and the Department of Health.
Thompson said there were “at least three requests in the works” that, if fully funded, would exceed $11 million. But, that’s anticipated money — not money spent, which was the basis of Rowden’s complaint.
Caleb Rowden said: “Over three months after receiving CARES Act relief funds from the state, the county has still not made those dollars available to help struggling Mid-Missourians.”
Evidence from the Boone County Department of Health and county records back that up.
We found that $2.1 million had been approved for two organizations that requested CARES Act funds. But that money had not been sent by the Boone County Commission at the time of Rowden’s post. Although it was promised, the money had not hit the bank accounts of either organization.
We rate this claim as True.