Gov. Kevin Stitt said Wednesday the State of Oklahoma was formally opening a new digital platform that will allow municipalities and county governments to seek reimbursement for expenses incurred while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Stitt said Oklahoma has been designated to receive $1.2 billion through the CARES Act, or federal funding specifically designated for the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Stitt said he had just finished walking his bi-partisan legislative advisory committee through the process that will distribute federal money across the state, and the next step was to formally open the mechanism that will allow city and county governmental leaders to submit applications for those funds.
“We are one of the first states to officially launch our on-line portal,” Stitt said of the mechanism directed to local and county governments. “This platform allows us to effectively and transparently process reimbursement requests to help communities in need with financial relief.”
Stitt said he was asking all cities and counties who have COVID-19-related expenses to set up reimbursement accounts on Oklahoma’s Online Checkbook. Those applications will be reviewed to ensure they conform with guidance provided by the U.S. Treasury Department about how funds must be spent, he said.
Regulations specify eligible expenditures must have been caused by COVID-19 and must have occurred between March 1 and Dec. 30, 2020. They cannot have been within the applicant’s budget as of March 31. Stitt said reimbursement will not be made for lost revenue, emphasizing federal dollars are for COVID-19-related expenditures such as new hires, new technology that allows employees to work from home, personal protection equipment and other expenses directly related to coping with the virus, “not for replacing sales tax revenue.”
“Our mission is to maximize all federal dollars available during this unprecedented time and to ensure this money is spent with integrity on COVID-19-related expenses, emergencies and pandemic preparedness,” he said.
The state’s goal is to begin processing applications by June 1, with the first reimbursements to go out the first week of June, which is why Stitt wants municipalities and county governments to begin submitting requests now. State officials will close the portal June 10 to analyze the process, then expect to reopen the portal for new applications after that time to continue distributing federal funds.
Stitt said Congress awarded the dollars to states with the expectation that governors “will work with local communities to ensure dollars are distributed quickly.” He said the legislative committee had worked with the Oklahoma Municipal League and the Association of County Commissioners, which have been retaining a list of reimbursement requests from their members.
Stitt said he was comfortable that the $1.2 billion allocated to Oklahoma would be enough to hit the state’s COVID-19-related expenses without having to “pick and choose among municipalities.” He said state officials will get a clearer picture of those expenses as municipalities, county governments and state agencies begin filing expenditure reports.
Distributions will be posted on the site (checkbook.ok.gov) on a daily basis, to ensure residents know who the money is being delivered to and how it is being used.
The process will involve the bi-partisan legislative advisory group that Stitt announced last week and the CARES FORWARD Team that includes experts from every major Oklahoma sector affected by COVID-19.