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Macomb, Oakland plan spending $371M in COVID-19 aid

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Top officials in Macomb and Oakland counties announced Tuesday they have obtained more than $371 million in federal funding to help offset expenses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic since March.

The CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund, totaling $2 trillion, was passed by Congress on March 27. The funds can only be used for pandemic related expenses. Michigan has received more than $3.8 billion in CARES grants, $800 million of it to be used in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel

In a press conference Tuesday, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said $10 million of the $152 million in funds obtained by that county will be distributed to some of its 27 municipalities. To qualify for the federal grants, applicants had to represent at least 500,000 residents, which made Macomb communities ineligible for direct aid, he explained. More than 877,000 people reside in Macomb County.

“$152.5 million is a lot of money and we are grateful and are going to be careful on how it is used, pending approval by the (Macomb County Board of Commissioners), and an audit,” Hackel said.

The grant is more than half of the county's annual general fund budget, he noted.

Hackel discussed the apportionment of funds in broad strokes and displayed a chart that showed $24 million will go towards response and preparation; $32 million for public health; the mentioned $10 million to municipalities; $16.5 million to vulnerable populations; and $70 million — nearly half of the total grant — to small business assistance in the county, including helping them to prepare for eventual reopening with adequate safeguards, including PPE to keep employees safe.

“We will be making another announcement in June regarding how businesses may apply for the funds,” he said.

Hackel said major expense was used to keep county government office employees safe and working remotely. Only 20% of the county’s employees are in county buildings, he said. Public health costs have entailed testing and the need for personal protection equipment. There have been 6,425 cases of Macomb County residents testing positive, he said, and 741 deaths.

“We are seeing a decline but it’s not over yet,” Hackel warned.

Vulnerable populations include senior citizens and schools, he noted.

The funds will have to be spent by Dec. 31, he said.

Oakland County Executive David Coulter said Tuesday that $30 million of $219 million obtained through the CARES program will go towards the county's 62 cities, villages and townships, based on need and population. More than 1.2 million people reside across the country.

"It's not a one size fits all," said Coulter. "They (municipalities) will need to apply and adhere to federal guidelines for the funds. But we are excited and want to get the funds out to them."

Southfield Mayor Ken Siver appeared at the press conference and reported his city has been struggling with various unforeseen expenses. Among them: putting front-line responders up in hotel rooms to avoid exposing their families to the virus, and cleaning and retrofitting city departments to keep employees and the public safe,

Southfield has recorded 1,560 cases of COVID-19 and 200 deaths -- more than any other community in the county.

"This is very serious," said Siver, who encouraged all residents to continue staying at home, wearing masks and, when out in public, practicing social distancing.

Southfield Mayor Ken Siver

"We have an aging populatlon — more people over 40 years old then under 40 and our nursing homes and senior buildings have been hit very hard," Siver said.

The CARES funding is welcome, he said, because the city has lost court revenue, building revenue and "our parks and recreation programs have been devastated. We've canceled everything for the summer."

Coulter said perhaps equally important is the county's commitment to supporting small businesses — which make up 93% of businesses across the county. The county has already provided $14 million in grants to businesses "with more to come" Coulter said. More than 3,500 businesses have been helped with the stabilization funds, with an average grant of about $4,000

Nearly 7,400 small businesses — 17% of all businesses in Oakland County — applied for grants.

"We are trying to provide them with a lifeline for their operational expenses," Coulter said.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319