Johnson County supervisors plan to keep current criteria for direct assistance program

A majority of the supervisors said they would not support prioritizing people left out of previous federal pandemic relief programs.


Jack McGuire

Chairperson Royceann Porter listens to chairperson Pat Heiden during a Johnson County Board of Supervisors in Iowa City on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Cooper Worth, News Reporter

Workers in Johnson County previously excluded from COVID-19 stimulus payments will likely not be given preference in the county’s Direct Assistance Program, the county Board of Supervisors decided Wednesday.

The county plans on dispersing payments from the program through a random selection system for low- to moderate-income residents who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic and meet certain criteria.

Supervisors Rod Sullivan and Jon Green supported adding an additional category of eligibility that targets workers previously left out of stimulus payments, specifically. This would include undocumented immigrants and some previously incarcerated people, among others.

Supervisors Royceann Porter, Pat Heiden, and Lisa Green-Douglas were all in favor of keeping the program as it is.

In November, the supervisors approved several projects using American Rescue Plan money, including “$2 million for payments to workers who were ineligible for previous relief programs.” As the county defined the specifics of the program, it expanded to people who had faced other pandemic-related hardships.

The total for the Direct Assistance Program is $3.5 million after the supervisors and the Iowa City City Council each dedicated some of their American Rescue Plan funds into the program.

Currently, to be eligible for direct assistance funds, Johnson County residents who have lived in the county since March 1, 2020, and earning less than $45,000 annually, must show they have been negatively impacted by the pandemic in some way, such as:

  • Experiencing unemployment, housing and food insecurity
  • Participation in state and federal assistance programs
  • Exclusion from previous federal stimulus payments

If selected, recipients will receive a one-time payment of $1,400.

The supervisors previously approved the categories of eligibility during their Dec 8 work session meeting.

Sullivan said during that time, he was under the impression that the board wasn’t allowed to add an additional category for excluded workers, but he thinks the board can now.

“I would like to see us add that fourth category [for excluded workers], still use the lottery then for anything that’s left, and I think it would work,” Sullivan said.

This comes after an email exchange between Green and an adviser to the U.S. treasury, where Green said he was informed by the adviser that the county could make an excluded workers fund, as reported by the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

“The Treasury says yes, we could do either. It’s our call,” Green said during the meeting.

Green-Douglas said she could not support making changes to the program based on the decision of choosing which individuals were more negatively impacted than others.

“We heard from somebody today during public comment that excluded workers were more affected, and that’s a judgment call,” Green-Douglas said. “That is certainly a very subjective statement.”

Porter said and said she doesn’t support making changes to the program because she wants to help a wide range of residents.

“I want to do what’s best for all of Johnson County. This was never once stated that this was an excluded workers fund,” she said. “We have immigrants here other than the excluded workers who went through economic hardship during the pandemic.”

The supervisors will vote to approve the program during Thursday’s formal meeting.

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