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St. Louis County Expects More Than $170 Million In Federal Coronavirus Aid

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page
File photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page says he's not sure how the county can spend the $170 million it expects to receive from the federal government for coronavirus relief. Federal officials have not released the rules for using that money yet.

St. Louis County doesn’t know yet exactly how it will spend the $173.5 million it expects to receive from the federal government for pandemic relief. 

The county is waiting for federal officials to issue rules about how the money can be used.

“We are handicapped for the next two or three weeks because we don’t have clear federal guidance,” said County Executive Sam Page on Tuesday. 

Page knows of only a few restrictions on the money at this point. The funding can only be used for new expenses related to the coronavirus outbreak. It can’t be used for budget items that already existed. 

The funding also can’t be used to backfill any downturn in tax revenue that is the result of the coronavirus, Page said. The drop in sales tax collections, for example, can’t be covered with the federal money.

The county is optimistic that much of the direct spending the county has already done to combat the coronavirus will be reimbursed, though. The county purchased $7 million worth of personal protective equipment — an expense it expects to recoup. 

It’s also paying to put up first responders and people who are homeless in hotels when they need to be quarantined. County employees are also staffing overwhelmed food banks. The federal government is expected to pay for first responders and other county employees’ overtime, Page said. 

The expenses are continuing to rise. On Tuesday night, the county council gave its police department $1.5 million to cover coronavirus expenses, including $1 million for personal protective equipment for officers. The council also signed off on spending $40,000 on ambulance services for people who are homeless and $2,000 on Zoom for Healthcare software that would make it easier for public health employees to meet with people virtually.

St. Louis County is ahead of other local jurisdictions in knowing what coronavirus funds it will receive from the federal government because of its large population. Municipalities with more than 500,000 residents can receive their recovery funding directly from the federal government. 

State governments are in charge of distributing the federal money to smaller localities, including St. Louis and St. Charles County. Missouri lawmakers returned to Jefferson City this week to work on the financing for other jurisdictions. They must pass a supplemental budget for that money to be allocated.

Wildhaber settlement money approved

The county council voted 7-0 Tuesday to transfer $7 million to an insurance fund that it will use to make an initial payment to settle a discrimination lawsuit won by a county police officer, Lt. Keith Wildhaber, later this week. 

Wildhaber said the police department passed him over for promotions several times because he's gay. The county agreed to pay Wildhaber and his lawyers over $10 million in the next two yearsrather than continue to fight his lawsuit. 

Under the terms of the agreement, the first $7 million of the settlement must be handed over by the end of the day Thursday. Wildhaber is expected to get about $4.4 million this week. The rest of the $7 million will be split between his attorneys. 

Follow Julie on Twitter:@jsodonoghue

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