Johnson County excluded workers to receive $2 million in federal funding

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors agreed to move forward with providing $2 million to workers who were ineligible for previous COVID-19 relief programs, but workers say a $2 million fund is not enough.


Cecilia Shearon

Pat Heiden calls the session to order during the Johnson County Board of Supervisors Work Session on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021.

Cooper Worth, News Reporter

Excluded workers in Johnson County who were ineligible for previous COVID-19 relief are set to receive $2 million of the $29.3 million in the county’s federal American Rescue Plan funding.

The program was decided, along with several other projects to spend the federal money on, during a Johnson County Board of Supervisors work session on Wednesday.

During the public comment section of the work session, Emily Sinnwell, a member of the Iowa City Catholic Worker House, said the county’s $2 million proposal is not suitable for all the excluded workers and their families.

“$2 million excluded worker fund isn’t nearly enough,” she said. “We need at least $15 million to meet that need and guarantee racial equity and pandemic relief for everybody.”

Sinnwell said the county must work with the coalition to disperse the funds, stressing how both must come together to form a working group.

Johnson County resident Dan Kauble said he supported increasing the funds for excluded workers.

“Frankly, the reaction of county officials to this movement has been pretty cringe,” he said. “This has never been more clear than the input session in the Coralville library. The reaction of Supervisor Sullivan has not only questioned the work status of coalition leaders, but also left the meeting room and refused to come back in to hear the stories of excluded workers is very revealing about the prevailing mindset at the county regarding this issue.”

Johnson County Grants Coordinator Donna Brooks said at the meeting the county needs to follow the U.S. Treasury department’s guidance, which says that people local payments to people who missed federal payments should not exceed the value of those federal payments.

The U.S. issued the first round of stimulus checks to eligible citizens in April 2020. Qualified U.S. adults received $1,200, plus $500 per dependent. The second round of checks were $600, and the most recent check issued in March 2021 sent $1,400 to eligible citizens with an additional $1,400 per dependent.

She said county staff used an estimate that 600 people in the county were excluded from stimulus payments to approximate the $2 million figure, but that number could change.

“As long as we act within [the U.S. Treasury’s] recommendations, I don’t believe we have any reason to be scrutinized,” she said.

She said it is unprecedented for the county to provide direct payments to residents.

“We are trying to learn that process as quickly as we can with the guidance from the state and other counties around the nation,” she said.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, members of the American Rescue Plan Leadership Team, composed of county staff, department heads, and elected officials, asked the supervisors to review nearly 80 projects and vote on the continued discussion of funding.

Proposals that did not earn majority support from all five supervisors were removed from further discussion.

The supervisors are moving forward with approved projects for a work session dedicated solely to further planning for American Rescue Plan Funding on Nov. 8.