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City hires ‘disaster recovery’ consultant to advise on fed aid

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The city of Albuquerque just received $150 million in federal relief money.

It is now using up to $100,000 to better understand how to get the most out of it.

The $150 million infusion comes from the federal CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief program. It has a restricted purpose: local governments can only use it for costs incurred because of the coronavirus pandemic between March 1 and Dec. 30.

The $150 million sent to the city last month serves as something of an advance – and anything left after paying allowable costs will revert to the federal government.

But with federal guidance about what does and does not qualify as a coronavirus expense still evolving, the city has turned to Guidehouse Inc. for assistance.

The new consulting contract, signed last month, says Guidehouse will help the city identify expenditures reimbursable by the federal government, maximize financial support and ensure compliance with associated regulations.

Albuquerque Chief Financial Officer Sanjay Bhakta said Guidehouse has national expertise in “disaster recovery consulting.”

“They will look into all the expenditures and make sure they are eligible and we are within the compliance,” Bhakta said in a meeting with Journal editors and reporters Thursday. “They may also suggest what other expenditures we may be able to charge that we haven’t thought about.”

The city has so far recorded $3 million in COVID-19-specific expenses. That includes personal protective equipment for first responders, deep cleaning at facilities like the 911 call center where staff operate in close quarters, and extra measures taken amid the pandemic to screen and serve the city’s homeless population.

Bhakta said the number should soar in the next couple of weeks with some new equipment orders.

City leaders also continue hoping the money is available to fill budget gaps due to lost tax revenue. Current estimates put the decline at $27 million to $30 million through June 30.

However, current CARES Act guidance expressly prohibits revenue replacement.

Even without that option, Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair said the city expects to use all of the money, noting that it can go toward city payroll for certain employees who are spending a substantial portion of their time addressing COVID-19.

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