Charlotte County commissioners agreed to set aside $2.8 million in rescue funds Tuesday that they hope to get back.
The funds are aimed at helping thousands of people who have lost their jobs in Charlotte County.
When looking at such large figures for welfare not normally handled by local government, board members asked for assurance that they are allocating this money and not appropriating it.
They voted unanimously to appropriate, as in spend right away, $250,000 to help some of the 1,489 households that have applied so far to the county’s new emergency aid program. The $2.8 million is an allocation, meaning it is set aside but requires more approval for actual spending.
The $250,000 adds to the $250,000 approved last week. This will help fund the $606,352 of current outstanding funding requests for households that have been deemed eligible but there are no funds to pay. They’ve already paid out $334,000 to 226 households.
How will the county get any of the money back?
The federal government issued emergency aid directly to Florida’s larger counties, including places like Lee County with populations over 500,000, Budget Director Gordon Burger said. Similar funds for smaller counties went directly to the state. Charlotte County has a population of about 180,000. The state has not released that funding, staff have advised commissioners. It is believed that about $10 million is for Charlotte County.
“I’m hoping and praying we get every one of those pennies back,” Commissioner Ken Doherty said.
Even if the money is not reimbursable, Commissioner Joe Tiseo said, the county is allowed to use its contingency funds in the event of major disasters.
Commissioners instructed staff to get answers from legislators and lobbyists about releasing the funds. And they advised local residents to call their state legislators.
People are applying for help with housing, utilities, car payments, phone bill, internet bill and food, Human Services Director Carrie Walsh said. They are using an online system set up by a coalition of nonprofits and county government offices called Community Organization Active in Disaster. COAD has been praised as a model system to guide neighboring counties that are larger and wealthier.
Walsh said a local committee of elected officials, low-income citizens and at-large citizens calculated the $2.8 million figure. They estimated how many people are unemployed locally and how much a minimum request would cost at $1,400 for a month’s rent. They calculated as much as 15,500 are unemployed as a result of coronavirus, and paying a month’s rent for all of them would cost $22 million. They predict at least 10% of those will ask for aid, based on applications so far.
Staff expects the amount of money needed to increase dramatically as more applications are approved and more people apply for help. They’re down to only 10-12 applications a day now, said Housing Manager Colleen Turner. At the start of the pandemic shutdown, there were as many as 231 a day.