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Bell County needs funding for more healthcare workers. Will they be able to get it?

Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd told state legislators there was cash available to fight COVID-19, but with a few caveats.

BELL COUNTY, Texas — Tuesday morning, Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd told the Texas Senate Committee on Health & Human Services there was money available to counties and cities in the battle against COVID-19. 

"There's money. Congress put $10.5 billion on the street for the 254 Texas counties and all of the cities," Kidd said. 

In some cases, Kidd said communities have declined available money or just left it on the table.

"There is money that the Biden administration and Congress put out there to respond to COVID-19 response and recovery, and to pay healthcare workers premium wages, and that money is going to sit there and go back to the state and go back to the treasury."

At the same time Bell County spokesman James Stafford told 6 News Wednesday the county had submitted a State of Texas Assistance Request (or S.T.A.R. request) to the Texas Division of Emergency Management several weeks ago for additional health care workers and was turned down. 

So just where is that money, and why was Bell County turned down?

Despite Kidd's comments, State of Texas agencies don't actually "have" much of the money discussed. 

Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act in February, which made $10.5 billion available to Texas through Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (CLFRF). Of that $10.5 billion, the Treasury Department had $5.7 billion available for all 254 Texas counties and $3.4 billion for 75 Texas cities. The remaining $1.39 billion was available for smaller Texas communities and cities with a population of less than 50,000.

Bell County has already received half of the more than $70 million allotted to it, but it got the money several months ago before COVID-19 cases began rising. The money will be allocated to other public safety improvements, including an expansion to the Bell County jail. Additionally, counties only get half of the money in 2021.

Kidd may have said some communities were leaving money on the table, but that mainly applies to a fraction of the $1.39 billion for cities smaller than 50,000.

At the same time, Governor Greg Abbott released an announcement Monday that included action to reinforce local hospitals. According the the press release from the governor's office, "The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) will be utilizing staffing agencies to provide medical personnel from out-of-state to Texas health care facilities to assist in COVID-19 operations."

Kidd told legislators Tuesday he believed DSHS would begin bringing additional health care professionals into the state in less than a week. 

The program could serve the same kind of request that Bell County had recently made and DSHS had denied. After the announcement, however, DSHS told 6 News on Tuesday it didn't have the money to start.

"The plan is to use the medical staffing firms we used last year and earlier this year to provide health care staff. We’re getting everything lined up but will need funding to pull the trigger," spokesman Chris Van Deusen said via email on Tuesday.

A day later on Wednesday afternoon, Van Deusen updated 6 News and stated that, "funding has been sorted out."

Stafford told 6 News Wednesday the county has re-submitted its request and is hopeful the new funding will help bring much-needed staff to the front-line workers dealing with full intensive care units.

"My understanding is that, that application is going to be reopened now," Stafford said. "When those heroes are telling you they would like additional support, I very much hope that they are able to get it. They deserve it. They've earned it again and again."

Stafford said hospitals would be able to manage more beds, and increase capacity, if the state can get additional health care workers to come in.

Kidd also told senators Tuesday there is money available from FEMA for 100 percent reimbursement of COVID-19 related expenses, but few counties have taken advantage of that funding.