One billion, 161 million, 728 thousand, 403 dollars. And 1 cent.
Springfield and Greene County have received at least that much in federal taxpayer money in the past two years to fight the economic meltdown created by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Springfield Daily Citizen analysis of state and federal databases.
The deluge of COVID-relief money dwarfs the combined annual budgets for the city ($394.5 million) and county ($261 million). It also illustrates the local severity of the pandemic, which has killed nearly 740 Greene County residents and infected more than 71,000 people — more than one in five residents.
“I cannot imagine what our community would look like without these resources, especially considering the pandemic has lasted more than two years,” says Janet Dankert, president of the Community Partnership of the Ozarks. “I don’t think we should overlook the impact of two long years under a pandemic.”
The Daily Citizen analysis shows a majority of the COVID money was in the form of forgivable loans designed to keep businesses open and workers on payrolls. Those loans helped save the equivalent of one-third of all jobs in Greene County, according to declarations made by business owners on their loan applications.
It is literally your money — more than a billion dollars from federal taxpayers was used locally to pull the economy of Springfield and Greene County through the pandemic.
- At least $1,161,728,403.01 in COVID relief money has poured into Greene County since Spring 2020. That’s roughly $3,886 for each of the 298,915 people in Greene County as of the 2020 Census.
- Using a population-based formula and including other COVID-related programs, we estimate the actual amount could be $2,107,335,403 or more — or $7,050 for every person in the county.
The $1.162 billion figure for Greene County is almost certainly a low-ball number; the actual amount is likely more than $2 billion. Several federal COVID-relief programs don’t parse their disbursements beyond the state level. Among them:
- Stimulus checks. There were three rounds of Economic Impact Payments. Missourians received $15.73 billion in stimulus checks. Greene County has roughly 4.85 percent of the state’s population, so using that as a guide, county residents could have received almost $763 million.
- Enhanced unemployment payments and related payments made in 2020. We do know the statewide amount — $3.76 billion, according to a report by Auditor Nicole Galloway. At 4.85 percent of the state population, the county share could translate to more than $182 million in benefits to jobless county residents.
- Money for families who lost loved ones to the virus. Nearly 2,000 Missouri families received a total of $12.5 million to help defray funeral expenses. If Greene County’s share hewed to its population percentage, that would mean another $607,000 to locals.
- Deferred student loan and interest payments on federally held student debt. Then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos suspended the payments in March 2020. Two years later, the pause continues. It’s scheduled to end on May 1 but the Biden administration reportedly wants to extend the freeze.
In addition, the federal government provided many millions more to fund public health programs, support COVID testing, ramp up vaccination development and distribution, and also to bolster finances of health-care providers to help offset losses they incurred due to lost income from routine care and procedures.
In total, the federal government — first under President Donald Trump, and then under President Joe Biden — passed three major pandemic relief measures, financed through about $5 trillion in federal borrowing:
- The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (March 2020) provided $2.2 trillion for fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families, small businesses, and industries
- The Consolidated Appropriations Act (December 2020) included $900 billion to continue many of the programs by adding new phases, new allocations, and new guidance to address issues related to the continuation of the pandemic.
- The American Rescue Plan, costing $1.9 trillion, added new phases, new allocations, and new guidance to continue programs, and created a variety of new programs to fund recovery efforts.
Here is a closer look at the largest COVID-relief programs, the impact in Greene County, and who got the money:
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): $751.8 million
Passed in the early days of the pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program provided businesses with emergency loans to keep workers on the job. Missouri businesses received $13.7 billion in PPP loans.
In Greene County, local businesses took out more than 9,000 loans, totaling at least $751.8 million, according to PPPwatch.com, a website that has aggregated data on the national program.
Melinda Arnold owns one of those businesses, Fusion Link Communications LLC. It publishes the Greater Springfield Kids Directory, a free monthly magazine for parents, grandparents, educators, and caregivers.
Arnold was ready to distribute 11,000 copies of the magazine in March 2020, when the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. “Not only did we lose a high percentage of our distribution locations, and all of the highest-traffic places,” she says, “but also the content of the April magazine was essentially irrelevant to our audience because programs were canceled and businesses were closed for the foreseeable future.”
Arnold put the April 2020 edition in the recycling bin. She wrote off the advertising and wondered if her small business was going to go under.
“I only had residual income from the previous months’ invoices — not much,” she recalls. “Our May 2020 magazine was digital-only and free for our advertisers.”
Arnold learned about the Paycheck Protection Program through the media and the Small Business Development Center. Her banker assured Arnold that funds would be available and helped her with the application. “Virtually painless,” Arnold says of the process, which resulted in Fusion Link receiving two loans totaling $30,004.
With the money, Arnold was able to keep two part-time employees working and gave her a “modest draw” for her living expenses. More important for the long-term: “We were back in print in June 2020, with about half the number of pages of our pre-pandemic magazines and a severely curtailed distribution.” A smaller magazine, yes, but one that was still in business: “Without a doubt, PPP and CARES Act kept my business afloat, and we are in business today because of this funding.”
Estimates of the impact vary, but local business owners reported the PPP money helped save between 58,000 and 99,000 jobs — that would equate to roughly one-third to one-half of Greene County’s total workforce, according to the Census Bureau.
The government waived repayment on nearly all PPP loans.
Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER): $124.7 million
Three rounds of funding to public-school districts for “preventing, preparing for, and responding to COVID-19.” Districts have until September 2024 to use the funds.
As an example, the Springfield Public Schools will receive about $61.6 million in the third round of funding. It will allow the district to add staff across all its primary and secondary education campuses.
Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF): $164.4 million
Colleges and universities used the money — (HEERF I, II, III) — to pay for: distance learning; to recoup lost revenue from declining enrollment caused by COVID; and to improve campus safety and operations. At least half of the money had to be for direct financial relief to students. Students who were eligible for financial aid through the federal Pell Grant program were targeted for the largest amounts of aid.
In Greene County:
- Missouri State University: $84,426,142
- Ozarks Technical Community College: $54,896,152
- Drury University: $15,195,071
- Evangel University: $9,917,462
Coronavirus State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds Program (SLFRF): $97.2 million
The SLFRF program gave money to local governments to fight the pandemic, “maintain vital public services,” and invest in long-term growth.
Springfield and Greene County have almost $100 million in SLFRF money. City and county leaders have surveyed the public and are listening to blue-sky proposals from several groups and agencies. Improving mental health services, tackling homelessness, and increasing public safety and security are near the top of both surveys.
“On behalf of the Ozarks Alliance to End Homelessness, our community’s Continuum of Care that oversees the homeless services system in Greene, Christian and Webster Counties, we have made recommendations to both the city and the county,” says Dankert from the Community Partnership of the Ozarks, which has a major focus on building strong neighborhoods and communities. “These recommendations address housing and homelessness, which are two issues we feel are critical to the health and betterment of our community and its residents. … I’m hopeful that funding will be allocated to meet social issues that have been growing over the past two years of the pandemic.”
Dankert’s hopes aren’t going to be answered anytime soon. “We are still in the very beginning of the allocation process,” says Cora Scott, the city’s director of public information and civic engagement. Scott calls it a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to transform the future.
So does Bob Dixon, the presiding commissioner of Greene County. “My colleagues on the Commission and I are looking forward to the possibilities of a number of projects which could catapult our community forward,” Dixon says.
It’s a difficult process, Scott says. Projects should be “transformative and have long-lasting positive community impact,” she says. But because the federal money is a one-time event, anything that requires an annual budget isn’t as likely to get a green light.
City and county honchos might brainstorm together on common priorities. “We are actively collaborating with each of our nine municipalities in order to jointly advance projects that mutually benefit our communities,” Dixon says.
Adds Scott: “It’s possible that we find certain projects require significant funding that we could possibly cost share. It’s also possible that we have projects that complement.” She says city and county leaders are meeting informally to brainstorm collaborative ideas; a more formal joint process could be announced in the coming months.
Both governments also hope to draw favorable attention and further funding from the state and its $2.6 billion Fiscal Recovery Funds pool to “maximize the results,” Dixon says.
Springfield and Greene County have until the end of 2024 to earmark the money for specific projects and must spend it by the end of 2026.
The breakdown for the two units of local government:
Other local governments in Greene County — NEU (Non-Entitlement Units) funding: $8.3 million
Emergency Rental Assistance Program: $15.7 million
Greene County reported assisting 1,969 households under ERA I & ERA II in 2021. The county distributed the money through six local organizations that work with impoverished families, including Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation, Consumer Credit Counseling Service, Council of Churches, Community Partnership of the Ozarks, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri.
- ERA I Greene County: $8,800,000
- ERA II Greene County: $6,900,000