More than $18 million in federal funding has been earmarked for the region to provide wide-ranging COVID-19 relief, elected officials said this week.

Cambria County is set to receive nearly $12 million in federal funding, said state Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor. 

Somerset County will receive $6.5 million, Somerset’s county commissioners confirmed.

The funds – one segment of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act enacted in April – can be used to support small businesses, offset emergency response costs and bolster internet broadband, among a menu of additional COVID-19-related options.

Allocated in the form of a COVID Relief County Block Grant, state lawmakers approved that list last week in voting House Bill 2510 into law, Burns said.

“This will be a big help to our communities who had to deal with the pandemic on the ground, and those small businesses who didn’t receive any money from the federally sponsored programs set up by the CARES Act, especially those related to the tourism industry,” he said.

“It also will help address areas that do not have broadband service or are under-served.”

The county can also use the $11.75 million for COVID relief to support or offset costs for:

• Personal protection equipment, or PPE garb.

• Programs to support local economic development entities for costs related to the emergency.

• To assist cities, boroughs, towns and townships for their own costs related to the emergency.

• Behavioral health, and drug and alcohol abuse treatment services.

• Nonprofit assistance programs.

“It’s good to see Cambria County will be receiving this much-needed money to help the different facets across the county affected by this,” said state Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Richland Township.

“And I remain committed to help assist the county in any manner to ensure our businesses, economy and emergency services will be able to come back in the wake of this pandemic.”

Somerset County President Commissioner Gerald Walker said officials are still working to come up with a plan on how to use its allocation.

But the county has been documenting its own COVID-19 expenses – whether its plexiglass barriers for desks, sanitizer or cleaning supplies – for reimbursement, the board said.

Somerset County officials said those expenses were $95,829.24 as of Tuesday.

Cambria County President Commissioner Tom Chernisky said Cambria’s board is working with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania for more specific clarity on how Cambria’s funds can be spent.

The bipartisan commissioners association works to provide guidance and support to county leaders on statewide issues that impact them.

Even with millions set to assist counties, Walker noted county officials have been conservative with their spending, given that the state’s mid-year budget plan – which funds human services and other necessary expenses – is still a major unknown.

The COVID funds are being distibuted to the state through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Burns said the funds must be distributed to the county by July 15 to allow communities to expedite their recovery.

“Especially now that Cambria County is slated to move to the green phase of reopening on Friday, we can begin to rebuild our economy and get our lives back on track.”

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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