Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County

Getting to the Heart of CARES Act Funding

December 04, 2020 Jeff Aluotto, Bridget Doherty, and Holly Christmann Season 1 Episode 2
Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County
Getting to the Heart of CARES Act Funding
Show Notes Transcript

Assistant County Administrator Holly Christmann discusses the heart and hustle behind allocating Hamilton County's $142 Million in CARES Act funding. We dissect how the County prioritized that funding as well as talk to a small business owner who used a CARES Act grant to sustain her business and provide much needed services to her local community. 

Jeff Aluotto  0:06  
Welcome to heart and hustle in Hamilton County, a podcast about the people, places and policies that govern our local response to the covid 19. outbreak here in Hamilton County. I'm your host, Jeff Aluotto, and the county administrator here in Hamilton County. And over the next several episodes, we're going to be discussing some of the issues, challenges and opportunities Hamilton County faces as we battle a global pandemic, the covid 19 pandemic. So last week, Bridget we had on Greg Kesterman. Yes, it was our first podcast. And it was right when we talked, we took Greg back to February of this year when he started as the interim Health Commissioner. And then it just a few weeks later, global pandemic. Right. Right. So obviously Baptism by fire for new Commissioner Greg Castleman, who's performed extraordinarily well, during all during all this time. So we wanted to keep the conversation going this week on on the COVID-19 response, and in particular, so much of the response here in Hamilton County has been really governed by the county's receipt of federal funds through the cares act. And for those folks who might be listening who don't know, the cares act was the federal one of the federal government's major responses to the covid 19 pandemic. The cares act included with F forget the the total size of the stimulus package, but one of the elements of that was the 100 and $50 billion

Coronavirus Relief Fund, and that those were dollars that went directly out to state and local governments. The Hamilton County, being a community over 500,000 in population was a direct recipient of those dollars. So I can say that I think it was sometime in April, I got a an email from our budget director saying, Hey, does anyone know why we had $142 million show up in our bank account last night, and it was the was our receipt of those federal cares act dollars, that we then had to start programming against for the betterment of the community and responding to the to the pandemic. So we thought today, what better way to talk about the cares act then to have on assistant county administrator Holly Chrismann who has been the county's point person on this response in on

an on putting together a program to use those cares act dollars. So Holly, welcome. Thank you. It's great to be here.

So let's like we did Bridget with Greg. Last week. Let's go back, Holly, I guess it would have been to what a April or May this year so we get the money in Hamilton County and

some jerk tells you that you're going to be responsible for implementing $142 million at programming. How so? For perspective, the county's general fund budgets, about $270 million.

And most of that is programmed at the start of the year. And we know how it's going to be allocated to the sheriff's department courts, to board of elections, etc. So this is, you know, over half of our general fund allocation on an annual basis. And you got to spend it by December 30. So how do you start thinking about that? How do you go about putting that together?

Holly Christmann  3:46  
That's a great question. And it's fun to think back to what seems like eight years ago, when we did get that money just dumped into our bank account. So what we did initially,

after the excitement of knowing we had this funding, because we knew there was such a big need in our community for it. So we're so grateful for that.

So what we did, thankfully, for to our Board of County Commissioners, they first of all gave us very good direction on the types of broad categories for which they'd like to see this funding spent. So we relied heavily on their guidance, first and foremost. And then secondly, it was how can we bring a strong team together to implement and oversee these programs because some of these programs were brand new, some we knew would be done internally by the county, others would we would need to rely on our partners. So we brought together our cares act team that we lovingly call our 142 team. And there's about about 10 of us that met and pulled together and talk through how best to implement the board policies. So what we did from there is we propose to the board, four buckets

programming to use these funds and those included public health, vulnerable populations, community economic assistance, and of course, internal operations for the county. And from there we talk to get internally into our partners on the best way to divide those buckets into into individual programs. So how many how many programs in total? So you got the four buckets. But across the, across the range of those programs, how many programs in total? Is the county implementing through the cares act? Right about right around 36? line items, so 30 total programs and walk us through kind of the range of those activities, what what are we what are we doing there? Sure. So it could range from purchasing personal protective equipment. So we're fortunate to have a great Emergency Management Agency. So mass gowns, cleaning products, not only for internal county operations, but also for our partners. We also have funding available for testing services to expand capacity for COVID-19, testing, homeless sheltering, that was one of our very first programs, you may remember, in late March, early April, we received a call about the need to provide distancing, and they're homeless shelters. So that was one of the first programs we kicked off was providing assistance to shelters to provide hotel rooms. And that that's such an important program right now, especially with the weather changing, and making sure that folks vulnerable, of the most vulnerable are in safe, overnight accommodation. Correct. We also can in terms of range of programs, small business assistance was one that kicked off pretty quickly because of the stay at home order rental assistance programs, which were so essential and continue to be arts and cultural grants,

facility improvements for county buildings to in order to put plastic barriers and sanitizing stations, as well as grants for public Wi Fi, because of the remote learning for students. So it really was a very diverse group of programs to try and hopefully hit as many leads as we could.

Jeff Aluotto  7:12  
So when you're talking about all those 30, some odd programs,

Holly Christmann  7:17  
what can you do one thing just to save, we did a small business program, we did rental assistance. What can you tell us about the results of some of those programs? What What would you want the average resident taxpayer in Hamilton County to understand about the good that was ultimately done with with those dollars? Sure, I can, I would love to talk about the results of some of these programs, because they are I think so impactful. So for example, our small business program, we allocated a little over $7 million, we provided grants up to $10,000 to more than 700 businesses. And these are small businesses, many of which were not, or did not receive any other federal assistance. And this was a fun program I also got to be a part of and when you talk to some of these businesses and kind of talk about their stories, I mean, we had a ton of salon owners, a ton of bars and restaurants, barbers who had been in the community for 20, some years that needed help. You know, it was it was broad, it went through every community in Hamilton County. And it basically just, you know, from from sole proprietors, one peep one person businesses, up to 50 employees. So it was just a wide variety of businesses in this program and such needed assistance. And so we did actually two rounds, we did a first round in May and a second round. We're just closing out right now, for the rental assistance program. So far, we have provided rent or utility assistance to over 1800 households. And those are thanks to we have I think five partners helping us get those funds out. The we also provided funding to those childcare providers that were operating under a temporary pandemic license during March, April and May essential to have those facilities open for our frontline workers. And we provided funding to 78 childcare providers who were operating during that time, because you could imagine they had increased costs. for social distancing, they had increased costs for cleaning, for to ensure that the kids that they provide childcare for we're in a safe environment.

In terms of testing, we've done I think over 15,000 community tests over the past couple of months. So really strong results that we're seeing through these dollars. So in terms of all those programs when you when you think about back about this, Holly so whether it's 10 or 12 years from now, what what's going to be the one program that you remember which one are you I know they're all important, but what's the one that really speaks to you in terms of being really special

To the community, from what you've seen, this is like asking to pick your favorite child count.

Jeff Aluotto  10:05  
We all saw that right?

Holly Christmann  10:08  
So let me I would have to say if I had to narrow it down to just one, I would probably say the Small Business Program. Because these were some businesses that were, a lot of them were shut down. And due to the stay at home order, and that we know small businesses are the backbone of our community. They make our neighborhoods they make our communities, they they put money back into our local economy. And so to be able to provide

some sort of assistance to them, I think was is probably the most proud

Jeff Aluotto  10:39  
when you think about that. Is there are there? We've talked about some of these in the past. But is there is there any particular success story that that that stands out to you?

Holly Christmann  10:50  
We had

a small business that we provided grant funding to come before the board to tell the story of her receiving grant funds. And it was arabesque dance studio. And her story to show the impact that I think it was $5,000 that they received the impact that that had not only on her, but on the students in her dance studio. And again, the community in which in which she operates, I think was really impactful for everyone to hear and grateful that we were able to help her.

Bridget Doherty  11:27  
Right. I love this story. Because she is she had a storefront. Yeah, that was well known in North College Hill. And you know, that and the girls that she taught in her class are adorable. I mean, Fox 19 picked up the story. VX you picked up the story. It was just a really neat to see. dancer socially distance was some of the PP that she used with the grant dollars that she was going

Jeff Aluotto  11:56  
well. Bridget, you, as Holly said, You've got her on board meeting in the past, right? Yes. So, I mean, do we have technology or not? Right? So if you ever contact information I do we can call her

Unknown Speaker  12:11  
and see how she shot right now.

Bridget Doherty  12:29  
See if she answers here.

Hello. Hey, Kimberly Stewart. It's Bridget Doherty with Hamilton County.

Kimberley  12:36  
Hi. Hi.

Unknown Speaker  12:37  
Thanks so much for picking up. We've got a we're doing a podcast right now. And we're talking about cares, Act funds. And we thought it'd be fun to check in on you. I know you shared your story with us early on in this pandemic. And we wanted to ask you how you're doing with your studio and just talk a little bit about the the grant that you received. So Kimberly, can you give us just an update? How's business?

Kimberley  13:03  
Um, it's actually going really well. We are catering to a lot of students who are doing remote and virtual learning right now. So we have students that are logging on via zoom to do classes and kids who are coming into class to do classes.

Bridget Doherty  13:21  
That's great. In the early days of this pandemic, you received the grant a few actually a few months ago. Can you tell us what you use the grant for?

Kimberley  13:31  
Yes, so I used it to purchase CPE for all of our students. So all of them received max hand sanitizer. So and protective pouches. We also used it to make sure our studio bills were paid, so our studio rents and utilities, and we were able to bring on additional teachers to be able to come and teach at the studio.

Bridget Doherty  13:58  
Now Kimberly, you have a targeted audience that you work with. Can you tell us a little bit about the neighborhood you work with and the kids that you work with?

Kimberley  14:07  
Yes, so we are based in North College Hill. And we take students as young as 16 months old all the way through adult. We've been recognized via American Ballet Theatre as a project ca studio. And what that means is we help train quality dancers of color. dancers are typically underrepresented, or African American dancers are typically underrepresented population in the arena of ballet, and we've been fortunate that American Ballet Theatre trusts our studio to be one of those studios to train dancers of color and make sure that they are receiving quality sound technique education.

Jeff Aluotto  14:53  
Kimberly, this is this is Jeff Alito from Hamilton County. Thanks for being on One question for you. So if you could talk a little bit about, I think what you do is just such a great thing and such a great business, I think so many people that go through the north side, or North College Hill area know exactly where your business is. But the children coming into your studio now, whether it's in person, or virtually, what are you seeing in terms of just the, the need from these kids to continue to have a connection with something that was that was pre COVID. I mean, it just, we, it's Yes, it's important that we keep businesses open. But in this particular case, in so many other cases, I think it's just really important that, that we continue to have something for our kids to connect with. And so what are you seeing there, in terms of the need from from kids to continue to have these experiences?

Kimberley  15:54  
Um, well, I, I'm also fortunate that I am the social worker, for North quilotoa School District. So I see a lot of students who are home working virtually, and they really do not have any other contact with the outside world. I'm seeing I'm doing a lot more referrals for students for counseling, that are dealing with depression. And I think a lot of that is just being stuck at home. So one of the things that we also offer at the studio is dance therapy, we work with a couple agencies in the community, and provide dance therapy to students, and they're in classes with all the other students, no one knows that they're there for a special program. But just to be able to see the change in their attitudes and their demeanor and their personalities. Being able to whether it's come into the studio, and be face to face with the teacher or be on the computer and have that face to face with the teacher and other students has been tremendous. Some of the students have reported doing better in school, they bring me their report card so that I can see what their grades are looking like. And there's definitely been a change since the beginning of the school year. Thank you so much,

Bridget Doherty  17:10  
Kimberly, thanks for sharing your story. And thanks for you know, keeping, staying in touch with us and letting us know how it's going.

Kimberley  17:17  
Oh, you're very welcome.

Bridget Doherty  17:19  
So what does the future look like for you?

Kimberley  17:21  
Um, right now we're preparing, just in case we may have to close down again, I've we've purchased tablets, and TVs for all of our instructors. They're currently using them in the studio, because we do still have a few students who are working on their dance lessons from home, to be able to zoom so that they can see all of the students at one time and students can see the their classmates. But we're planning just in case, we will continue as normal, whether that's from the computer, or we're fortunate enough to be able to stay in the studio.

Bridget Doherty  17:56  
Thank you so much, Kimberly, and thanks for all the work that you're doing in the community and, and, you know, definitely all the best and we'll stay in touch and we wish you and your business, you know, a safe and happy holidays.

Unknown Speaker  18:08  
Thank you.

Jeff Aluotto  18:09  
Thanks, Kimberly. All right, bye bye.

That's, that's really cool. This is neat that we were able to get ahold of her first of all. So one, another test passed, I guess on on heart and hustle here on the podcast. But Holly, from your perspective. I mean, you do the you're doing this program. You've been doing it now since April, or whenever I know, when I leave the office, you're typically still here, you know, you're doing this on the weekend. This is kind of a 24 seven thing for you. And I know how much work goes into that how much administrative work goes into that whether it's you know, the the rigors of just the budgeting aspect and the legal aspect and contractual issues. How much does it help to hear from from people like this? Who, where you can actually hear the results divided times in government, right, you don't get a chance to really see the results of the work. But I would assume it would be rewarding for you personally to hear the results of how the how these dollars have been spent what and how people have benefited?

Holly Christmann  19:15  
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. When you're knee deep in contracts and, and budgets, like you said, it's nice to take a step back and realize the impact of collective impact of so many of our county employees and partners, and the impact it's had. So it's so rewarding to hear that. And that's exactly why with Kimberly, the Small Business program has been just a darling for us is because of the impact it has, as you heard from her not just from her but for her students as well. So yeah, we do here and we have received quite a few thank yous from individuals and organizations that have been recipients of these grant funds. So it does, it does help to counter those, you know, sleepless nights or long days. For

Jeff Aluotto  20:01  
Yeah. And so we heard about an example, the Small Business program, certainly, but looking now towards the future a little bit, and we're not quite certain where things are going. And we're in a period of time where we know that a vaccine is going to be rolled out here pretty quickly. And I think everyone is, is hoping, and praying that that vaccine rollout will lead to a quick recovery for the health and economy of the country. But we're not quite certain where this is going. So Hollywood, you think of the character of the Cures Act program that that you have implemented? Where are you most concerned in terms of what you were you have seen needs, that if continued to be left unaddressed are going to be problems? In 2021? Yeah, there are,

Holly Christmann  20:49  
there are a handful. And first and foremost, testing, I think is crucial to getting us through this pandemic. Secondly, I would say is rental and utility assistance and mortgage assistance, we're going to need that into 2021. I also think small businesses, additional relief for small businesses, many of them, as we are asking people to, to hunker down again, given the spike, many of our small businesses are seeing drastic declines in customers. And so I think we do have to recognize additional relief for for our small businesses. Those are the three off the top of my head, I would also say food insecurity would add that to the list as well. those are those are my top four that that I know, we need relief on into 2021.

Jeff Aluotto  21:39  
Yeah, I mean, we know we've heard local and national stories about food insecurity, food deserts, etc. And the degree to which a lot of food pantries have been have been really stressed during this this time, as well. So as we think about where we go into 2021, we know there has been continual continued conversation at the federal level about additional aid to assist. We know that the challenges that you just mentioned, are not going to suddenly come to an end on December 30 2020. What are we hearing at this point in terms of likelihood of additional federal aid?

Holly Christmann  22:20  
Well, there is currently talk in Congress right now of additional, there's a couple bills, I believe, from my understanding being tossed out there, one would have additional funding for state and local governments in 2021. The other I believe does not and then, but from my understanding, both of them have an extension of the December 30 deadline, which we are very hopeful that we would have something passed, we hope by next week. Because if we don't have the extension, we have things we have to do in order to spend the rest of this funding.

Jeff Aluotto  22:53  
So just for some clarity on that. So when you say an extension, that would be the ability to extend or to spend the dollars that we received the 140 2 million to expend those dollars past the December 30 deadline, correct, which right now, with that deadline, we are running very fast to make sure we get all these dollars spent in areas of need in the community that if we had that a little bit more time to do it, we could we could be a little bit more deliberate and have a little bit more time to think through how we get these dollars out.

Holly Christmann  23:28  
Yeah, and I would even use the example of some of our programs, we have funding encumbered. So our testing program, we have a large amount of money tied up in that rightly so. And we don't want that to end on set on December 30. We have money to continue the testing program into 2021. From our dollars that are allocated right now, and to MIT to have that potentially go away on December 30. Just does not make any sense.

At all.

Jeff Aluotto  24:00  
Yeah, right.

Unknown Speaker  24:01  
I mean, same with staffing, you know, with the health department, ramping up with contact tracers, all of that. I mean, that is that's funded by cares act dollars. And those contact tracers are going to definitely be needed in 2021. So it's, it's a major national conversation that's being had right now. In fact, Jeff, you are in the washington post on this very conversation. Talking about the need to extend this.

Jeff Aluotto  24:27  
Yeah. And it's just absolutely critical. And there really is no, no reason. I mean, there is the conversation about additional money. And I know that's a conversation that's that that can be difficult. Although I can't think of any better purpose right now than to spend money for the reasons that we've been talking about here. But even if the federal government was not going to do that, simply extending the time by which we can use the current allocation would seem to be the simplest thing possible. That can be done not spending any more money than what's been out And you're giving communities the chance and the opportunity to ensure those dollars get to where they really need to be. Correct. Holly. So before we before we sign off here, first and foremost, thank you. For everything that you've done on this, I probably won't get a chance to say it enough. So thank you for everything you've done in putting this program together for the county and for the residents of Hamilton County. Bridget, thank you as well, because you are have been a huge part of this also, working side by side with Holly on a lot of it. But I know Holly, there's a lot of other team members you have out there. So would you like to give a shout out to in terms of some of the folks that have helped you with this program over the past? Three quarters of a year? Sure.

Holly Christmann  25:46  
Well, first I have to again, thank the board. Jeff, you you've been a wonderful sounding board and of course, Bridgette, but our cares team is is a diverse group of folks from different departments, all who had their regular jobs. So I just want to stress that so our cares act team includes Brian wamsley, with planning and development Burt watts with facilities, Michelle baltz, and Lakota dad with environmental services, the entire budget team, den khattar, Rob Wagner, Lisa Webb, john Grogan, Melanie Augustine with emergency management agency. And I can't forget the crucial and critical help that our prosecutor's office in particular Cindy Fazio have provided to make sure we're we're doing things as as as required per the cares act. And then we have had quite a few other departments and folks just jump up and jump in where needed joy Pearson with planning and development has been critical with our rental assistance program and nonprofits. Job and Family Services has jumped in headfirst and quite a few of our workforce development programs and rental assistance. And, and of course, I can't forget, you know, Teresa, and Lisa and Jackie, and Leslie for making sure that a lot of the information is shepherded through to the board to get things passed. So it's just been a wonderful example of amazing teamwork and really hard work over the past several months, and it couldn't be more grateful for the folks we have working with the county.

Jeff Aluotto  27:18  
Yeah, sometimes the biggest challenges give you the opportunity to come together as an organization and really showed the organization's strengths. And those are most most oftentimes its people. Holly Thank you. And I just want us as we sign off on this episode of heart and hustle just want to remind people to subscribe to the podcast. And we will continue conversations on Hamilton County's response to COVID-19 in the coming week. So we look forward to seeing you on the next edition of hardened hustle in Hamilton County. Thanks for joining us today.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai