How Columbus spent $138 million in CARES Act funds

NBC4 Investigates

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — NBC4 Investigates reviewed the City of Columbus’ federal pandemic relief expenditures through the end of 2020, totaling more than $138 million.

Columbus received roughly $157 million last year from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act after President Donald Trump signed it into law on March 27.

Unlike other Ohio cities, which received CARES funding that was allocated by the state, Columbus received its money directly from the federal government. This was due to the city’s larger population, according to Mike Stevens, director of Columbus’s Department of Development.

Like most American cities, Columbus’ local economy took a hit from the pandemic. The city lost millions in tax revenue, and according to data cited by city officials, there are 27.7% fewer small businesses open than there were in January, 2020.

“We knew when the pandemic started, we were going to not only have a health crisis, but human service crisis, and then a negative economic impact,” Stevens said.

The Department of Development provided NBC4 investigates with more than 600 pages of spending records, accounting for every expenditure of the federal money during the third and fourth quarters of 2020.

Each expense fell into one of three categories: city services, economic recovery and resiliency, and human services.

City services expenditures included contracts with tech companies to provide infrastructure for city employees to work remotely, personal protective equipment for city workers, and covid-19 testing and contact tracing efforts. Those payments totaled just over $8.7 million.

Economic recovery and resiliency payments, to keep businesses open and workers employed, totaled just under $20 million. Those payments also included $7 million to purchase Chromebooks for Columbus City Schools students.

Human services accounted for the largest portion of the city’s CARES Act payments at more than $110 million, to ensure that those struggling financially could still access food pantries and other vital services.

“Going into the pandemic, there were still residents in this community who were left behind from the last recession,” Stevens said. “It’s really important, as we talked about the equity agenda and building wealth and opportunity throughout the community, that we focus on that and really bring everyone along, which is so important.”

Stevens remains optimistic about Columbus’ economic future.

“We were in a great position beforehand,” he said. “I think we’re going to come back strong.”

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