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State lawmaker asks Newton board for COVID relief funds plan
County officials says they are awaiting final rules from federal government months after delivery
Sharon Henderson
State Rep. Sharon Henderson speaks to the Newton County Board of Commissioners recently. - photo by Courtesy of Newton County

COVINGTON, Ga. — District 113 State Rep. Sharon Henderson, D-Covington, asked Newton County commissioners recently to find a way to distribute $10.8 million in federal American Rescue Plan funding the county has had since May.

Henderson said a number of county residents have contacted her about the money, including some who need the funds to avoid evictions.

"The American Rescue Plan is here to rescue the people," she said during a speech to the Board of Commissioners Sept. 7.

County officials, including County Manager Lloyd Kerr, have said they know generally the money must be used for something specifically tied to lost income from COVID-19.

However, Kerr has said the county has not received final guidelines on how to distribute the money and he cautioned the federal government could require repayment of any funds it deems improperly spent.

He said Georgia's county government advisory group, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, has advised counties to “move slowly” on use of the funds.  

Kerr also said that once the county has the rules, he wanted to use some of the funds to hire a third-party manager to administer the funds. 

He said the county does not have the personnel needed to manage such a large sum. An administrator could perform such tasks as developing a project list and budget, and give periodic reports to the Board of Commissioners through the end of the program, likely in 2026. 

The Board would have final say on any use of the funds, he said.

Henderson, though, criticized Kerr's recommendation for hiring a consultant because it would require spending money which could go to residents in need. 

She also said she wanted the Board to manage the funds and devise a plan for sending the money to those who need it. 

District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders should head up its collaborative effort because "women get the job done," Henderson told The Covington News.

Henderson said the funding is needed for those residents like a woman who said she was facing eviction from her home after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Centers for Disease Control's order for an eviction moratorium. 

"Not everyone has family members who will take them in," she said.

The enabling legislation that formally established the Board of Commissioners stated it should provide for the protection of county residents' safety and health, she said. 

"Let's show our people some love," Henderson said.

After Chairman Marcello Banes interrupted her speech because of previously scheduled and advertised public hearings on zoning matters, he later asked her to return and finish her remarks.