Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Running Out of CARES Act Funds

Report shows its entire $77 million allocation has been spent or will be claimed by costs already incurred.

By - Feb 9th, 2021 09:55 am

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Sulfur at English Wikipedia (GFDL) or (CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley recently called for the passage of a federal COVID-19 pandemic stimulus bill that would supply much-needed funds to local governments like Milwaukee County.

The county recently received additional funding to support ongoing rental assistance as part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed by Congress in January. But that bill didn’t include any additional funding for local governments responding to the pandemic.

“It can’t be overstated how great the need is for resources, to not only support Milwaukee County employees, but also to provide critical county services that many of our residents rely on,” Crowley has said.

President Joe Biden has proposed legislation called the American Rescue Plan, which includes $350 billion for state and local governments. 

The CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill passed in March 2020, shortly after the pandemic hit the U.S., included $150 billion for state and local governments. Milwaukee County received approximately $77 million. Some 10 months later, the county has $9 million left and it’s expected those funds will be used to cover costs that have already been incurred, Joe Lamers, budget director for the Department of Administrative Services, recently told the Board of Supervisors’ Finance Committee.

The latest COVID-19 legislation that came out of the federal government allowed CARES Act funds to roll over into 2021 — originally they were supposed to be used or expire at the end 2020.

We did not see that as much of a consolation,” said Lamers. “We were on pace to spend down the grant anyways.”

In a recent report to the board, Lamers highlighted the ways the county used the funds over the past year. Much of it was poured into direct aid to county residents and businesses.

More than 4,000 checks totalling $9.25 million worth of rental assistance went out, said James Mathy, housing division administrator. Mathy said this meant the county had helped avert more than 4,000 evictions. All told, 83% of the recipients of these funds were Black individuals or families, and 73% were female head of households, he said.

The county paid out $12,000 to approximately 1,500 small businesses, Lamers said.  That included $700,000 paid to arts and cultural programs at 75 organizations. Approximately 300 people were hired through Employ Milwaukee for jobs in COVID-19 response and mitigation. Another $850,000 went to non-profit and community organizations that were heavily impacted by COVID-19 and $1.6 million went to programs administered by the Department of Health And Human Services aimed at health and mental health. 

The legislation passed in January did provide some funding to county services that are critical to the local COVID-19 response.

$10.6 million in funding for rental assistance was allocated for Milwaukee County. Mathy said this new funding is even more flexible than the funding in the CARES Act. It allows the county to not only pay off back rent but also provide future rental assistance for households. 

Also, the legislation included funding for local transit agencies. The Federal Transit Agency currently has $60.3 million allocated for the Milwaukee Urbanized Area. The Milwaukee County Transit System is expecting to receive 90%, or approximately $54 million, of those funds, Lamers said, “given that we are the largest provider in the area.” 

MCTS has experienced a dramatic loss of ridership during the pandemic, which has cut deeply into the transit system’s revenue. This funding will help the system operate into the future without cuts.

In October 2020, before this new funding was allocated, Dan Boehm, MCTS managing director, said that if ridership on the buses did not return to pre-pandemic levels by 2022, the system would likely have to make cuts in service.

More about the Coronavirus Pandemic

Read more about Coronavirus Pandemic here

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