As Schuylkill County Commissioners faced increased criticism of its reckless spending of the $12.7 million in CARES Act funding it received earlier this year, they dangled a carrot in front of frustrated small business owners.
On several occasions during public meetings, Commissioners said the state still had $1.3 billion in CARES Act money to distribute. Commissioner George Halcovage even suggested at one meeting that Schuylkill County – if the state used a similar formula to divvy up that money as it did to get us the $12.7 million – could get another $3 million or so.
He and the county government dangled that in front of small business owners as they seethed over a lack of support from Commissioners as they ripped through that initial fund to pay for its own pet projects.
It was like saying to those struggling small businesses, non-profits and municipalities that played along with the unconstitutional business shutdowns during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, if they held out hope, there just may be enough money for more grants in the future.
Well, that’s not going to happen now.
No More CARES Act Money Coming to Schuylkill County
Any hope of that disappeared on Friday as the General Assembly in Harrisburg voted to pass a balanced budget for the rest of the 2020-2021 fiscal year. To balance the budget and make up for shortfalls across the board, the lawmakers decided to use up that remaining $1.3 billion in CARES Act money.
That means no more CARES Act funding for Schuylkill County or any other county in Pennsylvania. They got what they got and that’s that.
So, for small businesses, non-profits, and municipalities in Schuylkill County, it means they got next to nothing. The reason they got next to nothing is because Schuylkill County government officials waited until nearly the last minute to even announce that it would open a grant program for them. When they did, they gave those struggling businesses and organizations just 2 weeks to fill out applications for them and in the end, rejected many that they received.
According to a report earlier this week from the RepublicanHerald newspaper, only 30 small businesses in Schuylkill County were recipients of a grant from the local government. And according to a report on Friday from the paper, the ones who were awarded that money have not been disclosed publicly.
Schuylkill County has already committed to spending about $9 million of that $12.7 million it received earlier this year. And per our estimation and information made public by the county government, only 7.6% of that CARES Act money will make its way to small businesses.
It’s quite ironic – or arrogant – that while the county government followed orders from the state to keep small businesses closed (and big businesses open) and forced them to downsize or close for good, the county government kept growing. And it spent money not on unforeseen expenses related to the pandemic, mostly, it spent those millions of dollars on luxury projects:
- Upgrades to the county 9-1-1 system
- New HVAC system for the County Prison
- Touchless toilets, water faucets, and drinking fountains
The County argues that these expenses are related to the pandemic, though.
Upgrades to 9-1-1 were in the event that a COVID outbreak rendered the current headquarters in downtown Pottsville useless, even for a time being.
The new HVAC system at the prison is equipped with technology that’s supposed to kill viruses. However, there were no reported cases of COVID at the prison through the extent of the pandemic response.
And the touchless toilets and faucets and drinking fountains were meant to reduce the spread of the virus inside the Courthouse and other buildings at high contact points.
None of those expenses were truly needed to mitigate the spread of COVID in Schuylkill County. Yes, they might, or they might provide a service in a pinch, but to say they were necessary is a stretch.
They certainly don’t match the need that struggling small businesses continue to face as operations still haven’t returned to normal and there are hints that more restrictions could be coming in the future.
- CARES Act Grant Program Comparison: Schuylkill County vs. Carbon County
- Schuylkill County Praises Itself for Work on the CARES Act Business Grant Program
- Schuylkill County Small Businesses Only Getting 7.6% of CARES Act Money
- No-Bid Contracts Another Way Schuylkill Commissioners Stick It to Local Small Business
- Commissioners Adding COVID Projects to Cart Like They’re On Supermarket Sweep
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