Memphis, Shelby County governments receive millions in federal COVID-19 stimulus funding

Updated: Apr. 29, 2020 at 6:17 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Both Shelby County and the city of Memphis have received millions of dollars in federal stimulus funding to cover expenses related to COVID-19.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris told Shelby County Commissioners Wednesday the county has access to $50 million in CARES Act dollars from the federal government. Harris said he anticipates roughly 60 temporary positions will be added to the Shelby County Health Department as the department ramps up staffing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will propose to you a relatively massive expansion of the health department in order to meet the needs of COVID over the long-term,” he said.

Commissioners were also informed of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Shelby County Jail at 201 Poplar. Large-scale testing of 266 inmates and staff was conducted last Friday. Of the 266 tested, 192 of the tests came back positive. Public health officials said they believe the spread of the virus was limited to certain pods and not facility-wide.

“We are working very closely with the sheriff and his team. We have a team dedicated to the jail,” said Alisa Haushalter, Director of the Shelby County Health Department.

Harris reiterated to commissioners that the stipulations require the dollars be spent on COVID-19 relief and nothing else. That includes budgetary shortfalls. Harris also said other Shelby County municipalities (except Memphis) would be relying on the $50 million to aid COVID-19 spending in their budgets.

“We can’t get cross-ways of the feds on the money because if we use it for an ineligible purpose, then we will have to pay back those benefits,” he said.

Commissioners gave initial approval to a resolution requiring Harris to say how the $50 million will be spent before they vote on the FY21 budget.

More than a week ago, Harris proposed a $1.4 billion budget with $13 million in cuts and a hike of $16.50 to the wheel tax.

Commissioners Wednesday in committee meetings stripped down the mayor’s proposed budget back to the FY20 budget and said they would add onto it piece-by-piece themselves.

“If it’s about being more fiscally sound but still able to provide necessary services to our citizens that’s what this will do,” said Commissioner Eddie Jones, who is the commission budget chair.

The actions were met with rebuke by members of the mayor’s administration.

Shelby County CFO Mathilde Crosby told commissioners the math on how they were formulating the budget was not adding up, and Shelby County CAO Dwan Gilliom said he’s never seen a budget made that way.

Later in the afternoon, Commissioner Edmund Ford, Jr. and Commissioner Lee Harris traded jabs as the wheel tax hike was being discussed. The hike was eventually defeated in committee, sent to Monday’s meeting with an unfavorable recommendation.

Across the street on the city side, officials told Memphis City Council Tuesday that the city received more than $113 million in federal aid. But officials stressed, as county officials did, that money has to be spent on the pandemic.

Mayor Jim Strickland has predicted a $100 million revenue shortfall combined in FY20 and FY21 budgets, which includes sales and hotel/motel tax losses. City officials said Wednesday the restrictions on federal aid would not allow it to be used to cover revenue shortages.

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