Local governments in the Lynchburg area have been awarded more than $24 million in federal aid to help cover unexpected costs related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The city of Lynchburg, the largest locality by population in the region, will receive more than $7.1 million as part of the $2 trillion federal pandemic rescue package signed into law in late March. Nelson County is to receive $1.3 million.
But the money comes with strict stipulations, according to a memo sent by Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne to local officials.
The federal aid only can be used to pay for one-time expenses directly tied to the public health emergency and the funds must be spent by Dec. 30.
Localities also are barred from using the money to make up mounting budget deficits caused by steep drops in local tax revenue, which has caused disappointment among local leaders and calls for Congress to change the requirement.
“Funds may not be used to fill shortfalls in government revenue to cover expenditures that would not otherwise qualify under the statute,” Layne wrote, citing requirements handed down by the federal government.
In addition to Lynchburg, the state will send $6.8 million to Bedford County, $4.7 million to Campbell County, $2.7 million to Amherst County and $1.3 million to Appomattox County.
In all, more than $744 million was distributed to Virginia localities. The money was allocated on the basis of population.
County officials in the region said it was still too early to say how the bulk of the funds will be spent locally. They are awaiting further guidance from the state and federal governments about how to use the money.
Amherst County Administrator Dean Rodgers said he is taking a cautious approach to the aid since the county may be required to return funds spent for purposes that may not ultimately qualify under federal requirements.
Still, Rodgers is eager to take advantage of the aid.
“Do we intend to pursue every penny that’s available to us? You betcha,” Rodgers said. “We feel obliged to do that for our taxpayers.”
Like other local officials forced to navigate the one-two punch of a public health crisis and economic collapse, Rodgers lamented the federal aid could not be used to cover lost revenue.
Layne, who is leading the allocation of the federal money to Virginia’s localities, said state and local government officials have lobbied Congress to remove the restriction or provide additional funds to address the loss in revenue.