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Are Luzerne County homeowners receiving $600?

Luzerne County residents are wondering if the county council will follow through on a plan to make direct payments using American Rescue Plan funds.

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Luzerne County residents may have been waiting by the mailbox since members of the county council threw out the idea of sending $600 checks to some homeowners using federal money from the American Rescue Plan.

Luzerne County is set to receive $113 million from the federal government. Last year, the county council proposed spending about 40 percent of that money by sending out direct payments to homeowners.

It's been months since council members tabled the idea. So, where does it stand?

THE QUESTION: 

WNEP viewer Andrew Kornova reached out to our Verify team with this question:

"Luzerne County Council in July 2021 proposed a $600 rebate from COVID funds for homeowners in Luzerne County. Since then, they stated they were waiting for approval from the federal government. So, what's up?"

OUR SOURCES:

- Luzerne County Council

- The National Association of Counties 

- American Rescue Plan

THE ANSWER:

This is false.

No, Luzerne County homeowners are not receiving $600 checks. At least not anytime soon.

WHAT WE FOUND:

The county council tabled the discussion of homeowner rebates in September, saying the federal government had not yet released its final ruling on exactly how American Rescue Plan money can be spent.

The ruling is now available, and according to the plan, counties can spend the money by giving it to households either directly or indirectly impacted by COVID-19.

The National Association of Counties backs this up. A spokesperson with the organization tells Newswatch 16 that Luzerne County can send out those checks as it was proposed last year.

But a lot has happened since last year.

Five new council members were elected and took office this year, including vice-chair John Lombardo, who told Newswatch 16 the new council wants to start back at square one when it comes to a plan for spending the $113 million.

"Over the next month or so, maybe the next three months, we will have significant discussions about where the majority of this money will go," Councilmember Lombardo said.

Lombardo and several other council members we spoke with say some kind of direct payment will likely be part of that discussion, but not as it was proposed last year.

"We're all homeowners, we're all taxpayers, so we understand that it's a tough thing. But we want to make sure we're weighing the needs to the county as much as we're weighing the needs of the taxpayers. Ultimately, the taxpayers are going to be funding anything we do in the county," Lombardo added.

Newswatch 16 polled members of the county council to see if they would support payments to homeowners. Only four of the 11 got back to us. Only Councilmember Stephen Urban, the lone Democrat on the council, said he would definitely support it if the topic comes up again.

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