Where did $30 million in CARES Act money for mental health go?

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School districts across Iowa received various amounts of CARES Act funds. (iStock image)

Iowa received $50 million in CARES Act funds, $30 million of which was allocated equally at $9.50 per capita to Iowa’s 14 Mental Health and Disability Services regions.

The details of how the money was handed slightly varied by region, but all 14 regions invited school districts and mental health providers to apply for funds, and then either offer receipts to prove how the money was spent, or to pay for costs up front and then be reimbursed by the region with the CARES funds.

Some regions spent all their money early, while others, like Polk County Health Services, received leftover funds from other regions. Any money leftover was to be returned to the state by July 1.

IowaWatch contacted all 14 regions for the details on how much money school districts in each region received.

Russell Wood, CEO of the Central Iowa Community Services Region, provided the totals as to how much of the $30 million each region received.

TOTALS PER MENTAL HEALTH REGION:

Central Iowa Community Services: $3,217,609
County Rural Offices of Social Services: $746,392
County Social Services (CSS): $4,016,726
Eastern Iowa MHDS Region: $2,859,080
Heart of Iowa Region: $1,011,417
MHDS of the East Central Region: $5,700,926
Northwest Iowa Care Connections: $608,166
Polk County Health Services: $4,631,004
Rolling Hills Community Services Region: $1,875,437
Sioux River MHDS: $977,217
South Central Behavioral Health Region: $747,675
Southeast Iowa Link (SEIL): $1,541,716
Southern Hills Regional Mental Health: $278,105
Southwest Iowa MHDS Region: $1,788,530

RELATED STORY: Iowa schools shore up mental health services,
thanks to $30M in CARES Act funds

Note: The total amount per region did not entirely go to schools.

County Rural Offices of Social Services, CEO Rachel Cecil answers:
School districts in region: 16
How many districts received CARES Act funds? All districts were notified of the availability of the funds and the application process. Of the 16 districts, nine applied for and received CARES dollars. Additionally, the region funded one request from Graceland University, a private college in the region, and also a request from Challenge to Change, a provider that offers social emotional learning curriculum to school districts. The curriculum was made available to all districts in the region, and nine accepted the programming. The region is hoping to funding the programming with regular regional dollars for the 21-22 school year.
How much funding did each district received? Funding was based on the projects and funds proposed by each district in their application. Funds ranged from $2,169.08 to $7,2944.18.
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? Yes, the region is required to be invoiced for the specific project and what was purchased prior to receiving CARES funds. No upfront money was given. A few districts spent more than the original proposal budgeted for because of cost increases that happened between submission of the proposal and when items were actually purchased, and the region covered those overages.
What happens to any unspent money? There were no unspent dollars as we did a reimbursement system rather than block granting dollars up front. The region fully expended CARES Act funds after two rounds of proposals. If there were any unspent dollars after that, the region would have put out another round of request for proposals or worked with other regions that might have been able to use additional funds. If any money would have been left by July 1, it would have gone back to the state.

Eastern Iowa MHDS Region, CEO Lori Elam answers:
School districts in region:
 24
How many districts received CARES Act funds? 20
How much funding each district received: Eastern Iowa MHDS Region had an application process for CARES funds. Some schools submitted 1-2 applications and others did not. In November 2020, the Governing Board approved providing funds to help offset the cost of substitute teachers for special education teachers. Some schools did not want the funds. The amount listed by school district varies depending on if they submitted applications and/or accepted funds for substitute teachers.  
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? Our region required receipts, payroll information, etc. They would be reimbursed. We would review the receipts and ask for additional documentation if needed.
What happens to any unspent money? Any funds remaining as of June 30, 2021, are returned to the state.

Southwest Iowa MHDS Region, CEO Suzanne Watson answers:
School districts in region:
 36
How many districts received CARES Act funds? 33
How much funding each district received: Districts received funding based on their requests that met our guidelines along with the amount of funds we had available. Of the $1.78 million received by the region, $1.09 million was spent on school-related mental health needs. 
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? We had them confirm with receipts that the money was spent on the items/projects we approved.
What happens to any unspent money? All funds have been distributed and accounted for by the recipients and there was no unspent money. If they had not spent the funds, it would have been returned to us so that we could redistribute the funds to other providers within our region.

Care Connections of Northern Iowa, CEO Melissa Loehr answers:
School districts in region:
 15
How many districts received CARES Act funds: Five districts, two preschools, a private school and a community college.
How much funding each district received: All districts were invited to apply for $150,104. Schools received from $2,685 in Algona to $150,104 in to $80,400 to Classroom Clinic.
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? Yes, schools were to submit reports between mid to late June.
What happens to any unspent money? All money is encouraged to be spent, any remaining funds will be returned to the region to be returned to the state. 

Polk County MHDS Region, CEO Liz Cox answers and governing board agenda meeting minutes:
School districts in region:
 Nine
How many districts received CARES Act funds: One
How much funding each district received: Urbandale Schools: $82,139.90
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? Grant recipients were required to provide documentation of expenses related to the grant, which they have done.
What happens to any unspent money? All of the region’s funds were used before Dec. 30. We asked other regions if they would share their funds with us, and received $1.75 million in additional funds from the CICS Region.

Rolling Hills Community Services Region, CEO Dawn Mentzer answers:
School districts in region:
 33
How many districts received CARES Act funds: Six
How much funding each district received: It varied based on the request, but most were under $30,000.
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? Yes. They must provide documentation and receipts for all items purchased during the allotted time period for reconciliation on our end.
What happens to any unspent money? Any unspent money is returned to the state.

Mental Health and Disability Services of the East Central Region, CEO Mae Hingtgen answers:
School districts in region:
 39
How many districts received CARES Act funds: 33 received CARES funds in the first round of funding, and 22 received funding in the second round.
How much funding each district received: School districts were all eligible for the same amount in the first round, but did not always access the full $20,000 per district. In the second round, eligibility was based on student enrollment. Districts with 0-1,000 students could access $25,000; districts with 1,001 – 5,000 students could access $50,000 and districts over 5,000 could access $75,000. The total amount awarded to schools in both rounds was $967,905
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? Schools have to provide receipts to confirm they spent their funds according to their proposal.
What happens to any unspent money? Any unspent funds are returned to the state.

Southeast Iowa Link, CEO Ryanne Wood answers:
School districts in region: 
25
How many districts received CARES Act funds: 25 public and four private schools.
How much funding each district received: The total is $943,701.50 with amounts ranging from received funding between $16,000 and $85,920.66
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? The schools submitted proposals to the SEIL Request for Proposal for Cares Act funds in efforts to address mental wellbeing and mental health conditions in the school environment.
What happens to any unspent money? All funds were spent with the original budget detail or in partnership with the school to mend accordingly when the cost and/or availability of product supply was not as projected.

South Central Behavioral Health Region, CEO Jennifer Robbins answers:
School districts in region:
 10
How many districts received CARES Act funds: Three requested funds up to $35,729.
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? Yes.
What happens to any unspent money? Any unspent money is returned to the government.

Central Iowa Community Services, CEO Russell Wood answers:
School districts in region:
 39
How many districts received CARES Act funds: 21 public school districts and two private schools.
How much funding each district received: Districts received from $3,000 to $53,664.13.
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? Only if they are audited.
What happens to any unspent money? Any unspent money is returned to the CICS region.

Sioux Rivers Mental Health and Disabilities Services, CEO Shane Walter answers:
School districts in region:
 36
How many districts received CARES Act funds: 16
How much funding each district received: Amounts ranged from $3,998.75 to $55,300.
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? Each school district had to apply for the funds with a description of what they were using the dollars for.  Our region then approved/denied requests based on the criteria of the dollars (MH/Covid).  Each district then submitted an invoice/receipts with the actual dollars expended towards those requested services and the region paid/reimbursed the districts for those requests.
What happens to any unspent money? Any unused funds remain in our pot of money to spend towards other requests if needed.

County Social Services Region, CEO Mary McKinnell answers:
School districts in region: 54 school districts, 13 private schools and one tribal school
How many districts received CARES Act funds: 42
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? The amount approved is based upon the estimate provided in the grant application for covered CARES expenditures. Once a grant application is approved, the recipient sends invoices to County Social Services. Ninety percent of the claim is then paid. Once a project is complete and all invoices are received, the remaining 10 percent is paid. This ensures that the CARES dollars are only spent for intended purposes.  
What happens to any unspent money? Any money not expended by the grant recipient is to be returned to County Social Services. In July, all CARES funds that have not been spent will be sent back to the state from County Social Services.

Heart of Iowa Region, CEO Darci Alt answers:
School districts in region:
 11
How many districts received CARES Act funds: Three and two education agencies.
How much funding each district received: Heartland AEA received $52,206.74 in two separate requests. Perry Community Schools received $31,188.44. Waukee Community Schools received $161,130.10. Exira EHK Community Schools received $23,627.98. Dallas County Extension Education District received $26,609.62.
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? The way HICS distributed the funds was to give 90% initially to purchase the equipment or goods.  In order for the district or entity to receive the final distribution, they needed to submit all final receipts to show what was purchased and report back on how they spent the money.  
What happens to any unspent money? Any unspent dollars were sent back to the state on June 30.

Southern Hills Regional Mental Health, CEO Lori Nosekabel answers:
School districts in region:
 Nine
How many districts received CARES Act funds: Eight
How much funding each district received: Total of $180,667.43 to the eight schools.
Do the schools have to report back on how the money was spent? Yes, they were required to send receipts and verify purchases.
What happens to any unspent money? It will be returned to the state.

Leah McBride Mensching is a freelance reporter for IowaWatch. She has worked as a reporter, editor, photographer and media researcher over the past 15 years, both as an independent journalist and as an editorial manager for WAN-IFRA, the global organization of the world’s press. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University.