Few details yet on stimulus payments
By Marcy Stamper
Winthrop, Twisp and Okanogan County are expecting dividends from the recently passed federal stimulus plan known as the American Rescue Plan Act, but they’re still awaiting details about how much money they’ll get — and when they can expect it.
Over the next two years, Winthrop could see almost $103,000, and Twisp could get almost $210,000, according to an estimate by the Association of Washington Cities.
Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said they’re still waiting for specifics about the payments — and even specifics as to when they’ll know more. For smaller municipalities, the money will be disbursed to the states, which will then distribute it to cities, she said.
Winthrop has received no official notice about the money, nor information about how they can spend it, Winthrop Mayor Sally Ranzau said. Nevertheless, the Winthrop Town Council intends to develop a wish list of projects for this year or next so that they’ve done the groundwork when the money comes in, Ranzau said.
Okanogan County could see almost $8.2 million from the act. Okanogan County Treasurer Leah Mc Cormack is also awaiting information about whether there will be any restrictions on spending.
Details haven’t been worked out by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, but the act, signed into law on March 11, specifies that the disbursements will come in two installments. The first payment to counties must be made by May 10, and the second distribution no earlier than 12 months after that, according to the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), a private nonprofit that provides legal and policy guidance to Washington’s local governments.
Washington has an additional 30 days to distribute recovery funds to cities. The state can apply for a 30-day extension, so cities should expect the money in early June or July.
Counties will be permitted to use the money for anything but lobbying, according to the National Association of Counties (NACo). That includes responding to the health or economic impacts of COVID, supporting industries affected by the pandemic, and investing in infrastructure, according to MRSC.
“Show me the money, and then we’ll work with it,” Mc Cormack said.
In addition to the basic allocations for all counties across the United States, counties with nontaxable public lands will share another $1.5 billion from the act’s Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund over two years. That money will be on top of payments Okanogan County already gets through the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) and Secure Rural Schools programs. Okanogan County has 1,564,382 acres of federal land, almost half the county’s land base.
The public land allocation in the rescue act is significant, compared to PILT. Last year, total spending on PILT was $515 million, according to Jonathan Shuffield, NACo’s associate legislative director.
The U.S. Treasury will determine the funding formula for distributing the public lands and tribal monies. The act directs them to take into account economic conditions of each county over the past two decades, such as poverty rates, household income, land values and unemployment rates, rather than allocating the money on a strictly per-acre basis. NACo sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen two weeks ago, urging consultation on the formula.
NACo is also encouraging Treasury to consider the impacts of the boom-and-bust cycles of resource extraction that affect these counties’ finances, Shuffield said.
The public-land monies are earmarked for fiscal years 2022 and 2023, so Treasury has until October to develop the formula, he said.
In addition to the stimulus checks for most individuals, the rescue act has funds to assist people with utility bills. There’s also money for public transit and libraries.