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Newton board approves plan to distribute COVID-19 relief funds
Taps Salvation Army to shell out $700,000 to residents for housing, utility payments related to pandemic
Newton County Historic Courthouse
The Historic Courthouse in Covington where the Newton County Board of Commissioners meets. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton commissioners have approved a plan for a national nonprofit’s Covington office to distribute about $700,000 in COVID relief funds in the county.

County Attorney Patrick Jaugstetter said Tuesday, Feb. 1, he would try to provide commissioners a final date for distribution this week.

“We’re not going to be ready to hand them the check for a little while because they’ve got to get their system up and running,” Jaugstetter said.

Commissioners this week unanimously approved a resolution for the Salvation Army to distribute $400,000 of the county’s share of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) COVID relief funds to residents to make past due rent and mortgage payments; and $300,000 for utility costs residents accrued for reasons related to the pandemic.

The money will come from the county’s share of ARPA funds totaling $10.8 million it received in 2021. The county is due to receive an additional $10.8 million this year.

Jaugstetter said the Salvation Army “administers similar funds or funds from other sources for both renters and homeowners assistance and utilities assistance for residents in need.”

“This resolution would authorize an agreement with the Salvation Army for them to administer those (ARPA) funds on your behalf,” he said.

He said he recommended the agency give out 25% of the funding each quarter of the yearlong agreement so the county has the time needed to properly check the distributions to see they are being distributed according to federal housing assistance guidelines. 

The federal government has set income requirements that require the recipient to have 150% or less of Newton County’s median income for such distributions for renters and homeowners assistance, he said. 

Median household income refers to the income level that is between the half of the households in the geographic area of interest that earn more and the half of the households that earn less. 

Newton County’s median household income in 2019 was $56,316, with 150% of that amount being about $84,000.

Jaugstetter said the county finance director still must begin working with the agency to determine its format for reporting how the distribution is being done. 

“We will require that they provide you a quarterly update of applications made, applications granted and applications denied and that will be so that you can monitor to see if there’s any reason for us to seek to expand those qualifications or tighten those qualifications,” Jaugstetter said.

He added he still must determine what the Salvation Army will charge for its services.

He said he wanted to make sure the Board knows the plan’s administration costs are “tied to what that actual cost will be.” 

Salvation Army officials said they are considering adding a new staff person dedicated solely to the county program, Jaugstetter said.

“You may also remember that we have ... recommended an allocation of $350,000 for program management,” he said. “I’m not suggesting that this management will cost anywhere near that — it should be a relatively small percentage of that.”

“I will report that back to the board and probably have the board vote to approve that final cost estimate,” Jaugstetter said.

He said he recommended the Board “approve the agreement as stated with the understanding that we have to bring the final program management fee back to you for approval.”

“We can certainly have (the Salvation Army) get started because it’s going to take them a little while to lay their infrastructure in,” he said.

“So we present them with the contract, they give us that number. We can ask them to go ahead and begin to get ready.”

Patrick Jaugstetter
County Attorney Patrick Jaugstetter listens to County Commissioner Alana Sanders during the Feb. 1 Newton County Board of Commissioners meeting. - photo by Tom Spigolon