Why this Missouri county gave back almost half a million dollars in COVID relief still a mystery

60% of this Missouri city is fully vaccinated
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ST. LOUIS–After 18 years as the director of the St. Clair County health department, Nancy Stephan stepped away from the job in December, while still retaining her post as the department’s Chief Financial Officer in the southwest Missouri community. It was time, she decided, to let someone else handle the administrative stresses that come with the territory. Chief among them: her county’s decision not to spend almost a half-million dollars in federal aid that was supposed to be spent on COVID relief but instead was returned to the state of Missouri.

Missouri counties had until June 30, 2021 to designate spending under the 2020 CARES Act for coronavirus relief, with whatever was leftover to be returned to the state office of Administration. St. Clair County was one of five counties to return money to the state and by far returned the largest amount–$496,396.63–including $13,000 in accrued interest. The next-highest amount was Stone County, which returned almost $26,000.

“Our community is very poor,” Stephan said in a phone interview. “We can use that funding,” she said, adding that she didn’t know specifically how the county had spent what it did of the $1.1 million it first received.

Members of the County Board of Commissioners have not responded to multiple requests for comment and information for this story. According to Stephan, this is how the funding was divided:

  • St. Clair County Received $1,102,456.00
  • Appleton City R2S              $29,505.69
  • City of Osceola                      $29,652.37
  • Osceola School                      $51,698.22
  • River Crossing Life Center        $6,775.13
  • Roscoe C-1                             $10,842.99
  • St. Clair County Food Banc     $26,433.65
  • St. Clair County Government  $360,435.12
  • St. Clair County Health Department $73,377.59
  • Weaubleau R3H                         $18,768.83
  • West Central Community Action Agenc $11,663.00

The health department used the money for a generator, thermometers, hand sanitizer, masks, computers, printers, ink, Zoom and WebEx costs, and contact tracing-related personnel costs. Stephan said she went to county commissioners with a request for a digital sign that would have been used to share COVID-related information and also could have been tied into law enforcement use in the event of an AMBER Alert. It was an expense Saline County made with CARES funding. St. Clair County rejected it.

Minutes from County Commission meetings show that in November 2020, the sheriff’s department requested data terminals for patrol cars that could be paid for out of CARES Act funding, and that in December there was discussion about giving money to the Food Banc and that Commissioners denied a request for a temperature monitoring system requested by area police chiefs that would have been placed at county courthouse entrances in Osceola. There was also discussion, but no reported action, on potentially using CARES Act funding for X-ray screening at the Sheriff’s department.

Stephan’s request for the digital sign came in December 2020, but there’s no record in the meeting minutes that it was rejected. As it turns out, the department is getting the sign after all, just through a different source.

Through a grant with the state health department, St. Clair County received $255,084 that will pay for building renovations, a vaccine temperature monitoring system, a security system, a second generator, vaccine refrigerator, computer equipment and supplies, PPE, and the digital sign.

CARES Act funding returned to the state does not end up in a general revenue fund, and still needs to be spent according to federal guidelines.

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