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Iowa County Works to Issue Pandemic Relief to the Excluded

Johnson County officials are creating programs that will provide direct payments to residents who were unable to receive pandemic relief funds, including undocumented immigrants. Implementation could begin by March 2022.

(TNS) — Conversations continue on how to issue direct payments to residents in Johnson County, Iowa, such as undocumented immigrants, who were previously excluded from pandemic relief.

County staff will work with county supervisors to establish program details and eligibility by the end of the year, said Donna Brooks, the county's grants coordinator, during the board's Wednesday work session.

The anticipated timeline is to get the program implemented by March 3, 2022, Brooks added.

"We will work closely together as we always do to develop the processes and workflow necessary to get the funds out the door to the residents who are most vulnerable and in need of this benefit," Brooks said.

Johnson County is getting $29.3 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, and supervisors have indicated they will support $2 million in direct payments, which likely would be part of the county's general assistance program.

Supervisors could approve the first ARPA-funded projects during its formal session Thursday.

Key steps to direct payments include creating an application to gather necessary information, such as proof of identity and residency, according to county documents. Requirements would resemble those required for a Johnson County Community ID.

The county will need to define eligibility for the program, which could include unemployed workers, low- and moderate -income families and residents left out of federal stimulus payments.

The county also will need to establish amounts for eligible recipients, said Ray Forsythe, the county's special projects manager. Brooks said a fixed amount would be the "least burdensome" for applicants and the county.

Potential approaches for distributing the aid include first-come, first-served, needs-based or a lottery system, Brooks said. The board also will need to decide if cash transfers will be given by check, prepaid card or direct deposit.

Iowa City Council Thinking

The Iowa City Council expressed interest in collaborating with Johnson County during a joint work session Tuesday evening. The city has recommended allocating $1 million to $1.5 million for direct payments from its $18.3 ARPA allocation.

The city will wait for the county to put together a framework for the program and then offer feedback, City Manager Geoff Fruin said.

Members of the Excluded Workers Coalition — who have been asking for $20 million in direct cash assistance — said they want to work with Johnson County to distribute the funds.

They told both the Iowa City Council and Board of Supervisors this week how they don't want another organization involved in distributing the funds and how the application can't pose additional barriers.

"We want this help to reach every person," said Ninoska Campos, a leader of the excluded workers group. "We don't want it to go to an institution where they say they'll call us and don't, and we're still waiting or that the application was lost."

Iowa City Catholic Worker House co-founder Emily Sinnwell said the general assistance program "is the best available vehicle to effectively and efficiently distribute the aid to impacted workers" if the only paperwork required to access the fund would be proof of identity and residency.

Fruin said there is "a lot of opportunity to collaborate" with the county.

Elected officials also discussed using some of the federal money on affordable housing initiatives and eviction prevention.

Included was discussion of a property at 821 S. Clinton St., which is owned by the county but within city limits. The county has recommended allocating $4 million to developing the property, with the first funds budgeted in fiscal year 2024.

Fruin said the property could be developed into space for child care, government offices or permanent affordable housing.

Council member Janice Weiner said she would love to see mixed housing and child care that is "truly affordable."

County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said it "would be a huge mistake to not be working with Iowa City" on developing this property.

(c)2021 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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