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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Johnson County is preparing to wrap up the process of gathering ideas from the public for how the county should spend its allocation of $29.3 million in federal pandemic relief dollars.
The sixth and final public input session will begin at 6 p.m. Oct. 27. The session will be held at the county’s administration building, 913 S. Dubuque St., in Iowa City. A virtual option over Zoom will be available.
The two-hour meeting will be a town hall session, with the first hour dedicated to presenting information gathered from the previous sessions, said Donna Brooks, Johnson County’s grants coordinator. Brooks provided an update to local officials during a virtual meeting Monday evening of governments in the county.
The Johnson County Board of Supervisors has been discussing an internal funding needs assessment to specify possible projects that “enhance public services or create new public services that were identified as needs or priorities as a result of the pandemic,” Brooks said.
Last week, supervisors continued working through a list of almost 80 priorities that the American Rescue Plan Act dollars could be used toward. The items with majority approval stayed on the list. The board has indicated support for projects, including:
- Making payments to “excluded workers” including refugees and immigrants with an estimated budget of $2 million
- Having an eviction diversion program with an estimated budget of $75,000 annually
- Expanding the eligibility and benefit for the general assistance program with an estimated budget of $1 million annually
- Providing infrastructure and capital needs funding for local nonprofit programs that responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with an estimated budget of $2 million in one-time grants
- Creating affordable child care program on county-owned property with an estimated budget of $2 million
The board has not given formal approval to any projects or funding amounts.
Brooks said the internal assessment will wrap up about the same time as public input. The Board of Supervisors has another planning work session scheduled for Nov. 8.
There have been discussions of how Johnson County can work with other local governments on projects that qualify for the aid. Ray Forsythe, the county’s special projects manager, brought up affordable housing and day care opportunities.
Iowa City has indicated an interest in collaborating with the county and other cities. A joint meeting between the Iowa City Council and Board of Supervisors is scheduled for Nov. 16, City Manager Geoff Fruin told The Gazette.
Iowa City will receive $18.3 million of the pandemic aid. The city conducted its first phase of public input over the summer and presented initial recommendations to the City Council in September. The council has not formally approved any projects.
Funding under the federal aid program is broken down into two categories: emergent needs and strategic investments.
The four categories of “emergent needs” would require between $3 and $6 million, according to city estimates. This would include payments to excluded workers, eviction prevention, housing repair and emergency financial assistance for nonprofits.
“We, like the county, believe that if we work together, our dollars will not only be stretched much farther but it also will be a much more streamlined process for individuals and organizations who are trying to access our programs,” Assistant City Manager Rachel Kilburg said during Monday’s meeting.
One of the opportunities for collaboration is payments to excluded workers. The city has recommended allocating $1 to $1.5 million. Fruin told The Gazette a possibility is to develop one program for all county residents with the same benefits and eligibility criteria. Another option is for the city and county to create their own separate programs.
“We’ll kind of have to see how that plays out because at the end of the day, the elected boards of both the city and the county may have some different ideas,” Fruin said. “It could be that one wants to provide greater benefits or have different eligibility criteria than the other.”
The county's general assistance program could be used to direct those payments or a third party could be brought in to administer the program, he added.
“We're talking about undocumented residents interfacing with government so there's definitely sensitivities there,” Fruin said. "We just have to make sure that we can develop a program that people feel comfortable accessing.“
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