The money came as a surprise.
Two weeks ago, Greenville County received $91.4 million from the federal government via wire transfer sent by the Treasury Department. The county already knew it had qualified for some COVID-19 relief funds from the CARES Act; a week earlier, the Treasury Department had listed Greenville among the 171 counties nationwide with a population of more than 500,000 people, which served as the eligibility cutoff for receiving funds. Greenville is the only county in South Carolina to qualify.
But no one knew just how much money would be sent or when it would arrive.
“It was a surprise to us,” said County Council Chairman Butch Kirven. “The money came before we’d even gotten any specific guidelines about how to spend it. Those guidelines are still being refined now. So we were a little concerned about raising expectations too high before we found out what the rules would be.”
The funds amount to about half of the county’s annual budget.
“But there are very, very specific regulations that come with the money that tell you how you can or can’t spend it,” said Councilman Bob Taylor, chairman of the Finance Committee.
“But most of the money, when all is said and done, will go to small business to help them survive,” Butch Kirven, Chairman, Greenville County Council
The CARES Act requires that payments from the COVID-19 relief fund only be used to cover expenses that are “necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency resulting directly from the virus,” according to a statement from the Treasury Department. The funds cannot be used to cover lost tax revenue, and all the money must be spent by the end of the year, otherwise it must be returned.
“But given how much restrictions there could be on the regulations, I know I was pleasantly surprised that they are pretty flexible beyond that,” Kirven said.
County Administrator Joe Kernell is putting together plans and options for council to consider with regard to implementing the funds in accordance with regulations. Surveys have already been sent out to business owners and the Greenville Chamber of Commerce to better understand the needs of the business community, as well as surveys conducted by the United Way to gauge the needs of nonprofits.
Kirven said a special meeting will be held in the next few weeks to finalize a distribution plan.
“But most of the money, when all is said and done, will go to small business to help them survive,” Kirven said. “Right now it’s all about making sure we do our due diligence to apply these funds the best way we can.”