Municipal governments in Miami-Dade County have spent over $100 million responding to the COVID-19 pandemic since March, covering protective equipment for staff, overtime for police, meals for residents, coronavirus tests and more.
That’s according to spending breakdowns that the county’s 34 municipalities submitted recently to Miami-Dade officials as they seek reimbursement through federal CARES Act relief money controlled by the county.
After a bitter political fight in recent weeks over how much of the county’s $474 million in CARES dollars should go directly to cities, something of a detente was reached last week as the county commission settled on $100 million — $75 million to reimburse cities for COVID-related spending between March and December, and $25 million for new relief programs that don’t duplicate county efforts.
Now, cities are working with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s office to start getting paid.
“It has kind of left the political realm and entered the administrative realm,” said Pinecrest Mayor Joseph Corradino, a member of the Miami-Dade League of Cities executive board. “We stated our case, we had a rough patch there, we fought hard for what we wanted. It was bad blood, but both sides need to get over it.”
The cities’ submissions highlight the strange new world created by the pandemic, which has forced local governments to take steps their leaders couldn’t have dreamed of six months ago. There are payments for Zoom licenses; laptops for employees to work from home indefinitely; Plexiglas to shield staff from the public and vice versa; masks and hand sanitizer branded with city seals; and specialized units to enforce social distancing.
Coral Gables’ submission includes almost $100,000 for “restroom porter service” at parks. The tiny town of Medley, home to a police training center, bought a trailer outfitted as a socially distant gun range, according to its submission documents. In Key Biscayne, the village bought an all-terrain vehicle for about $15,000 so police could patrol the beaches.
“We needed one,” Key Biscayne Mayor Mike Davey said to explain the purchase. “Because of mandated beach closures, we needed a vehicle that could go on the beach.”
(To see each municipality’s submission, click here.)
In addition to the money cities have already spent, officials outlined another $175 million they’d like to spend by the end of 2020, according to a Miami Herald analysis of the submissions. That includes nearly $120 million in the city of Miami, some of which would expand assistance programs for rent relief and small business grants.
But the county’s plan won’t cover all of those requests.
According to Miami-Dade Deputy Mayor Jennifer Moon, cities have asked for about $60 million in CARES money from the county to reimburse operational costs. For many city expenses, the county will cover about 12.5% and FEMA is expected to cover the rest. (Other city expenses aren’t FEMA eligible — such as staff reassigned to coronavirus duties — but the county will use CARES money to pay back cities for those costs.)
The $75 million the county set aside for reimbursements is more than enough to fulfill the cities’ requests, Moon said. But the $25 million allocated for relief programs for city residents, businesses, non-profits and other groups is far less than what’s been requested.
“It’s not optimal, but at this point we’re trying to do what we can to get programs in our communities,” said Doral Mayor JC Bermudez.
Moon said the county is trying to get a handle on how much cities want for those programs, and how much of that may have already been covered by countywide programs for rent stipends, restaurant aid, business loans and other efforts approved by county commissioners.
“We’re still trying to see what the universe of requests is,” she said.
Any city relief program funded by CARES dollars requires commission approval, setting up the potential for another battle in the coming weeks. Moon said the administration hopes to have a proposal before the board for its Aug. 31 meeting.
Cities want more money for relief programs
Municipal leaders have sparred with Gimenez over CARES dollars, accusing him of blindsiding them late last month by slashing their allocation from $135 million to $30 million. The county commission’s vote last week to bump the cities’ share up to $100 million could help stave off a lawsuit that local mayors and the Miami-Dade League of Cities were threatening.
The clash over the best way to support Miami-Dade residents whose health and financial stability have been affected by the pandemic is, largely, a political one. One Miami city commissioner, Alex Diaz de la Portilla, accused Gimenez of using CARES Act money to create “political slush funds” to score points with voters as he runs for Congress.
The county has set aside multimillion-dollar buckets for a host of constituencies, including $35 million for restaurants, $35 million for home meal delivery to seniors, $20 million to help the needy through United Way, $10 million in rent relief and $20 million for business loans. All of those programs were established to provide relief countywide, both inside and outside city limits.
But city officials would likely take a similar approach on a more local scale. Their submissions outline various pots of money that they wish to make available to residents. Hialeah, the second-largest city in Miami-Dade, has tallied about $2.7 million in COVID-related expenses so far. But the city outlined another $40 million it could spend in 2020, including $7.5 million for “landlord, tenant and mortgage assistance,” $7.5 million for businesses, and $3.5 million for “eviction prevention.”
Miami Gardens, the county’s third-largest city, said it has spent over $2.2 million to date related to COVID-19, and listed another $12.2 million in expected or desired spending, including more than $4 million apiece for meals and rental assistance.
Ramiro Inguanzo, the assistant manager in Bal Harbour Village and the head of Miami-Dade’s city managers group, said cities will have to prove to the county that their relief programs serve a purpose that doesn’t overlap with county programs in order to get approved.
Municipal government groups, including the Florida League of Cities and the National League of Cities, have called on Congress to allocate money directly to cities in any future relief packages. Under the CARES Act, direct aid was limited to governments representing at least 500,000 people — more than the population of any city in Miami-Dade.
“I would like to see the money go straight to municipalities,” said Bermudez. “The $100 million probably won’t be enough.”
What will FEMA cover — and when?
The cities’ expense breakdowns show uncertainty over the role of FEMA, whose reimbursement process is notoriously slow. Aventura officials wrote “TBD” in a column asking if the city’s expenses are FEMA eligible. Other cities took educated guesses.
The agency has said it will cover a broad set of COVID-related costs, including disinfection of public spaces, providing emergency care, buying and distributing food and PPE, communicating public health messages and enforcing emergency orders.
But while many cities have already submitted their expenses to the agency, they haven’t heard anything back, said Inguanzo.
“The question will be, when will cities see those FEMA dollars?” Inguanzo said. Cities can wait years to receive FEMA reimbursements for debris cleanup after hurricanes. Several Miami-Dade cities are still waiting for money from Hurricane Irma in 2017.
County officials have notified some cities about expenses that they don’t expect FEMA to approve. In Miami Springs, for example, costs for “golf line markings and safety cups for new rules” at the city’s golf course aren’t likely to be reimbursed, the city’s submission notes.