Editor’s note: Community Impact Newspaper has reached out to Montgomery County Precinct 3’s office to ask if the county has any plans to provide economic relief to residents in addition to its existing need-based rent/mortgage/utility/prescription assistance programs. This story will be updated if that information is received.
A plan to provide a $500 stimulus check to every Montgomery County homesteader for COVID-19 relief has been halted, according to an Aug. 24 news release from Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack’s office. But communication between the county and some residents shows the county may have been aware the proposal had hit a dead end weeks before the announcement.
The plan, which was proposed by Noack, would have provided stimulus checks to all Montgomery County individuals and entities with 2019 property tax filings using a portion of the nearly $105 million the county received in funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. Montgomery County commissioners unanimously approved the plan June 1, pending U.S. Department of Treasury approval.
However, the Treasury showed a “lack of commitment” to provide written approval, and the Commissioners Court opted to not move forward with the plan, according to the news release. The county was concerned the proposed $65 million in stimulus checks would be subject to the federal coronavirus relief package’s clawback provision, according to the news release. The clawback provision states if dollars are spent outside the scope of the intended use of the funds, then local governments are responsible for repaying them.
“I truly believe this money should go back to the taxpayers,” Noack said in the release. “I am very frustrated that we could not get a simple yes or no in writing from the U.S. Treasury. We cannot risk spending $65 million that the county may ultimately be on the hook for.”
Email records and conversations with county residents indicate the county may have been aware of the Treasury’s decision at least a few weeks prior to the Aug. 24 announcement. In a July 30 email forwarded to Community Impact Newspaper, Cody Grimes, a representative of Noack’s office, informed resident Maxine Shields that “the U.S. Treasury has no plans to approve the proposed $500 stimulus in writing. Therefore, we are being forced to look at other options.”
Nearly 70 residents responded to a Nextdoor post in mid-August voicing their experiences and concerns with the county’s plan. Some said they were told by the county that the Treasury had denied the proposal. Others said they were checking the website weekly, waiting for applications to open.
“I called [Noack’s office]. I was informed by his office that there would not be any checks since approval has not been received because it was not listed correctly; however, they are trying to see if there are any other avenues where we would receive something,” county resident Bertha Murphy said in an Aug. 17 email.
In an Aug. 17 email exchange, the Precinct 3 office told Community Impact Newspaper: “We still have not received written approval from the U.S. Treasury’s department.”
Precinct 3 officials said Aug. 17 they would not comment further until they received written approval from the U.S. Treasury.
Community Impact Newspaper filed an open records request with the county Aug. 21, requesting all electronic communication regarding the stimulus proposal and its approval, and any documents showing the need for approval from the U.S. Treasury. This story will be updated if that information is received.
Many residents said in mid-August on Nextdoor they felt frustrated by the county’s lack of transparency and communication as they struggled to understand when applications would open, what the status of the proposal was and when they may receive their checks.
“I have been praying this would be approved,” Montgomery County resident Dorothy Peterson said in an email. “I realize to some it’s a very small amount but to the elderly it means survival. I have been plagued with high water bills, high electricity bills, auto expenses. … The $500 I was counting on to recoup, but I guess it’s not going to happen.”