Duluth, St. Louis County to receive millions in COVID-19 relief funds
The city and county will see a portion of the $360 billion in funds for direct financial relief provided by the American Rescue Plan bill.
Duluth and St. Louis County are posed to receive financial relief from the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, the American Rescue Act, signed by President Joe Biden on Thursday. According to projections from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, St. Louis County is projected to receive $54.3 million while Duluth is projected to receive $60.5 million.
The funds are intended to keep "first responders, frontline health workers and providers of vital services safely on the job" as the vaccine roll out continues and to "fight to rebuild Main Street economies," according to a brief from the committee. The funds can also be used to replace revenue lost, delayed or decreased as a result of the pandemic.
St. Louis County Administrator Kevin Gray welcomed the news.
"$54 million is incredibly significant funding," Gray said in a statement. "We are so thankful and pleased by the opportunity these federal economic stimulus funds will provide to St. Louis County to serve our residents and businesses that are struggling due to the pandemic."
Gray said the funds are more than double the amount of funding the county received through last year's CARES Act. Through that act, the county was able to help people through grants to small businesses, community organizations, nonprofits and school districts.
"Now we are receiving more than double that amount, and it is exciting to imagine the good we will accomplish," Gray said. "The longer timeframe allowed for using these funds (end of 2024) is also much appreciated. We certainly will move quickly because we know the need is great; however, this also allows us to be strategic in developing a plan that serves a variety of needs across our great county."
Duluth Mayor Emily Larson also expressed gratitude for the funds.
"This is an absolutely incredible bill to meet the growing needs of residents in every corner of the country," Larson told the News Tribune. "I am ecstatic about what this can do to help stabilize our economy and the bright futures of people who live in Duluth."
Larson said city staff have been working to calculate the city's financial costs of the pandemic since it arrived in the area a year ago.
"We have experience with crises, such as wind storms and snowstorms, so we're really good at calculating the financial costs of those elements," Larson said. "We knew within the first six weeks that the costs wouldn't be in the $1-2 million range. We're talking tens of millions of dollars in financial impacts."
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By April 2020, the city was calculating a deficit upward of $39 million due to losses from property, sales and tourism tax collections. Larson said she communicated her concerns for the lost revenue and struggling people with U.S. senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar as they've worked on this bill.
"We've gone into our reserves and into our rainy day funds to make things work. We've taken a more aggressive, conservative financial approach to contain costs and keep ourselves afloat," Larson said. "So it feels good to know that the federal government has seen this pain and recognized that it was not sustainable."
As for how the city will use and distribute the funds, Larson said they're "not ready to discuss" plans publicly just yet, as they're still "looking at the fine print of the bill." But she stressed that she doesn't want to "inherit greater costs" by implementing these one time funds in a "way that kicks costs further down the line."