Sedgwick County gets $100 million for coronavirus fight

Kristie Cook’s mask asks for some space as she hands out food to the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic in Wichita, Kansas. (April 30, 2020)

The Active Age

Sedgwick County Commissioners are dealing with an interesting problem: how to spend nearly $100 million given to the county by the federal government to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

At least some of the $99.6 million will go toward programs and services geared toward older residents, commission Chairman Pete Meitzner said last month.

“You’ve heard nationally, it’s a constant theme that the most vulnerable people need to be protected,” Meitzner said. “Seniors fall into that vulnerable population, so we’re very aware of them.”

Local governments with more than 500,000 residents automatically qualify for the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund. Sedgwick County has about 516,000 residents and its current budget totals about $440 million.

A review team selected by County Manager Tom Stolz will make recommendations to the commission. Its members include employees of the county, Wichita, Derby and Wichita State University, plus community members Melody McCray-Miller and Jane McHugh. The county hired Witt O’Brien’s, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm that specializes in emergency management.

“We want to make sure what we can we pay for, because we would have to return it if we decided to do something that’s outside the scope” of federal requirements, Meitzner said.

Meitzner would like to use some of the money stockpiling protective equipment for first responders.

“Absolutely,” he said. “We’ve all heard the rumor that this thing could reappear in the fall. If this thing comes back, we as a community and as a state, we are going to be so much smarter and understand what it’s critical to be prepared for. It will not be easier, but we will be smarter, that’s for sure.”

Meitzner said testing and education for older residents could qualify, along with safety measures.

“How can we protect the senior centers or any other senior services, making sure that when we’re delivering Meals on Wheels, or when they need transportation, (we are) protecting the senior but also the person delivering that service? That would be very valuable for our senior population.”

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