Otter Tail County and Perham have both budgeted how they will be using their federal funding to help offset the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

In June, Gov. Tim Walz announced the plan to distribute $841 million to Minnesota counties, cities and towns to support local governments in COVID-19 relief efforts. The funding was authorized under the federal Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

Otter Tail County, among other counties, has until Dec. 10 to use their allocated CARES Act funds. After Dec. 10 the unspent funds will be returned to the state.

The city of Perham was granted $255,000 in CARES Act funds to be used for their COVID-19 related expenses. City Manager Jonathan Smith said the $255,000 in funding was spent in six different ways.

Smith said Perham has until Nov. 15 to use its CARES Act Funds before they must be turned over to the county.

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Smith said, $100,00 was given to the county for the small city fund where 47 businesses and 10 non-profits applied for that fund. The was $40,000 spent to support businesses, with $30,000 to the Starfish Fund and 10,000 to the Perham Area Community Center for summer rec. Other spending included $12,00 to $15,000 in personal protection equipment, $50,000 in technology updates and $55,000 in COVID related payroll protection.

“The technology portion was used for laptops, including new (police department) squad laptops, upgrades to the council chambers to better host Zoom meetings, give presentations and offer other remote meeting services and library laptops; they are also getting an upgraded meeting room but funds are coming from Viking Library CARES money,” Smith said.

Otter Tail County Deputy Administrator Nick Leonard said, exactly who will be receiving the funds is not finalized at this time as some of the application deadlines are not until the end of December. However, the county does have the funds budgeted to be allocated into different categories.

Otter Tail County was granted $7.2 million in CARES Act funding. According to the Navigating the Road Ahead document from Otter Tail County, the county’s funding is planned to be used in five different categories:

Community resilience: $1.5 million will be used to focus on the basic needs of those in crisis due to the impacts of COVID-19. This $1.5 million for community resilience will be used for the CARES Act Emergency Assistance Funds which will be used by the Human Services Department to support people in the maintenance of their housing, utilities and transportation impacted by COVID-19.

Economy: $4 million will be used for small businesses, non-profits and the workforce to help those who have been directly and adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The $4 million will be broken down into two different subcategories.

  • $3 million to support small businesses, non-profits and workers by providing grants for small businesses with 50 or fewer employees; grants for eligible non-profits including those that provide housing services, food support, childcare programs, arts and culture services. Advising services, workforce support to connect displaced workers within the county and Personal Protection Equipment.

  • $1 million to support regional marketing, which will disperse funding to Otter Tail Lakes County Association whose staff and Board of Directors are developing programs in the following areas; directed business marketing support, community grants and regional marketing.

Child care: $600,000 will be used for education and child care to help families who are experiencing additional economic hardships, social isolation and other stressors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the $600,000:

  • $400,000 will be used to support Otter Tail County Schools. This funding will be dispersed to the nine school districts in the county: Fergus Falls, Battle Lake, Henning, Parkers Prearires, Pelican Rapids, Perham-Dent, Underwood, New York Mills and Ashby. The funds will be disturbed by the Lakes County Service Cooperative and the funds will be used for student and staff safety, additional nursing and mental health positions, food preparation and distribution and staff and teacher development.

  • $200,00 will be used to advance local broadband initiatives as the pandemic has highlighted the widening digital divide in the county as schools have moved towards distance learning and digital access is becoming more necessary for workers. This will be done by expanding Wi-Fi Hotspot services, improving access with equipment and software, and enhancing resources for students and job seekers.

Emergency response: $1 million will be used for emergency responses as local entities have seen significant increases in current and projected needs for programs and services due to COVID-19. The county will also ensure that a portion of this funding is available for non-budgeted costs that have arisen with COVID-19.

The final $100,000 in the county’s CARES Act Funding will be distributed to small cities and towns under 200 people in the county that were not eligible for a distribution from the state.