Johnson County and Iowa City appear to be at an impasse over funding the 319 residents who were eligible for $1,400 direct incentive payments, but the money was refused.
While the Board of Trustees and the City Council seem to agree that they need to find a way to pay the 319 people, they can’t agree on the details of how to do it.
Last week, a majority of Iowa city councilors agreed they would be willing to pay Johnson County enough to fund 50% of the remaining applicants. On Wednesday, a majority of Johnson County Supervisors said they would prefer Iowa City to fully fund the 319 people, which would cost $446,600 in addition to the $660,000 it had already paid.
“I cannot support an additional $222,000 allocation to this program, mainly because I am unwilling to select and defund previously approved ARPA projects to generate an additional $222,000. And I do not think it is appropriate to to discuss that we have that amount from the general fund,” said regulator Pat Heiden.
Like Heiden, most Johnson County Supervisors, district officials and their Iowa City colleagues said in public meetings that they were doing what they agreed to in disbursing aid payments to 1,919 residents. At the same time, many elected officials are trying to rectify the outcome that left out eligible candidates.
Speaking through an interpreter, Ninoska Campos, a constant presence at almost all of these meetings, explained it simply in a statement Wednesday:
“The public wants solutions from their officials, not excuses. As Iowa City and Johnson County continue to play political football with people’s lives, the cities of Coralville and North Liberty pretend we don’t exist at all.”
Campos advocates for undocumented immigrants who have not received a stimulus check from the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Campos was one of 1,919 people who received a check saying she used it to pay for rent, electricity and food, but her son was one of 319 people who were locked out.
It is unclear when and if a solution will be found. The Iowa City Council is meeting Tuesday to discuss the program.
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Why did 319 eligible applicants not receive $1,400 incentive payments?
The checks from the Johnson County Direct Assistance Program were sent in July. The program considered 2,238 people eligible but was unable to fund 319 because of the way Iowa City and Johnson County agreed to share costs.
The program was funded with $2 million from Johnson County, $1.5 million from Iowa City and $27,000 from Coralville. But in the end, about $700,000 of Iowa City’s money went unused.
Under the agreement, Johnson County’s funds would be used first for all residents, including those in Iowa City. After that $2 million was used up, Iowa City’s money would kick in, but only for the residents.
Johnson County funded 1,428 people, including 823 Iowa City residents. All 319 unfunded people live outside the borders of Iowa City, and many live in mobile homes that are, in some cases, just across the street from Iowa City.
If the deal had been negotiated to use Iowa City’s money first, this predicament could have been avoided.
Another possible solution was if either government had first circumvented the strict rules of the American Rescue Plan Act by putting the money into their general fund. Johnson County could also have set aside more than $2 million.
The city and county have interpreted how to spend ARPA funds under federal law, finding that Iowa City would not have been able to pay for applicants outside of its borders.
The county, at $29.3 million, Iowa City, at $18.3 million, and North Liberty at $2.9 million, chose to spread the wealth of their ARPA contributions to various projects. Coralville used the majority of its funds, $3.5 million, to offset the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on hotel and motel tax revenues.
Coralville contributed just $27,000 and funded 16 applications. None of the other Johnson County counties contributed, but most of the unfunded applicants came from Coralville, unincorporated Johnson County, and North Liberty. The only cities where their residents were fully funded were Iowa City and University Heights.
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Iowa City Offers to Share the Cost of the Remaining 319 Applicants
In a letter to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, Iowa Mayor Bruce Teague outlined the City Council’s proposal. This would result in Iowa City paying 160 applicants with $224,000 by refunding Johnson County the costs of 160 Iowa City residents, rather than paying the new applicants themselves.
Iowa City suggested that Johnson County use this fee and approve an additional contribution to fund the others living outside of Iowa City.
“We didn’t get to the deal we thought we were getting, but I’d really like to find a way to make the 319 people whole,” councilor Janice Weiner said at last week’s meeting.
Weiner, like the other city council members, said she didn’t want Iowa City to take the entire burden.
Teague, in his letter, requested accelerated action so that the city and county could amend the original agreement and obtain final approval before the next city council meeting.
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Johnson County Proposes Iowa City to Pay for Another 319 Iowa City Applicants
The Board of Supervisors considered two options, but ultimately asked Johnson County and Iowa City to mutually agree to change the program management terms to fund all eligible applicants.
This would be accomplished by funding Iowa City within its borders a total of 791 residents, and an additional 319. It would essentially repay Johnson County for already paying 319 people in Iowa City, freeing up county funds for the 319 applicants who were left out.
Johnson County would still fund 1,428 residents, 504 of whom live within the boundaries of Iowa City.
Under this proposal, Iowa City would pay a total of $1.2 million of the $1.5 million allocation for the applicants it paid for and some costs for administering the program.
Donna Brooks, the county’s grant coordinator, said this option would allow the county to act almost immediately to fund the remaining 319 applicants.
Heiden supported that option, saying that Iowa City is expected to spend less than $1.2 million of its total allotment and that the attorney general’s office is ready to make an amendment to the original agreement to allow for that. to make.
Promoter Lisa Green-Douglass agreed.
“The simple solution to that is to change the order, re-do the deal and let everyone get funding,” Green-Douglass said.
She said Iowa City’s proposal to split the costs didn’t make sense and wasn’t something she would consider.
Supervisor Jon Green said he didn’t think the Iowa City Council would accept this counter-offer. He said he fears that will mean that none of the 319 people will be paid.
“The political reality I see is that I don’t believe the Iowa City Council would accept a counter-offer from Johnson County saying we’ll only move forward if you pay these 319 claims,” he said.
Green proposed a complicated plan with interest money from the ARPA allocation and some from a proposed project to improve water quality at Kent Park Shower House, with bids significantly over budget.
Supervisor Rod Sullivan said he would prefer Iowa City to pay for the 319, calling his view “selfish.” But he said if the only option to fund the 319 people is to contribute half, he would support it.
“I think it’s very important that we don’t argue with our friends in Iowa City. There are only three counties in the state that have done this: Johnson County, Iowa City and Coralville,” Sullivan said. “I really don’t think we should be critical of each other if we’re the only ones who have done this.”
Rather than wait until the next Iowa City Council meeting, Teague spoke to the Board of Trustees for more than an hour on Wednesday. He reiterated the city council’s choice to request a 50/50 split.
Teague also pointed out that Iowa City and Coralville came to the county to contribute while other cities did not, and that Coralville will have paid only 1% of the total amount of the program.
Teague did not say whether the Iowa City Council would support the county’s proposal. He claimed that the city would subsidize the residents of the province.
“Remember, you have 11 (cities) within your jurisdiction, and Iowa City is only one,” Teague said. “And we’re the one who contributed.”
Green agreed he’d like to see proportional buy-in from the rest of Johnson County’s counties, but said that’s not an option.
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George Shillcock is the local government and development reporter for the Press-Citizen, which covers Iowa City and Johnson County. He can be reached at (515) 350-6307, [email protected] and on Twitter @ShillcockGeorge