The Escambia County Board of Commissioners last night officially approved its Committee of the Whole decisions to increase the award amount from $2,000 to $3,000 for the Escambia CARES Family Assistance Grant Program and from $3,000 to up to $7,500 for the Rent and Mortgage Grant Program.
Over seven months after President Trump signed the CARES Act and four months after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced how much Escambia County would receive, the county is still three weeks away from finally releasing checks to the individuals, families and small businesses in the community.
ESCAMBIA CARES FAMILY ASSISTANCE GRANT PROGRAM
The first round of application submittals ended on Tuesday, Sept. 29. More than 9,000 were received, but county staff reported to the board that the number will be culled to 5,000 once all duplicated, incomplete or ineligible applications are vetted.
Each qualified household applicant will receive $3,000 as part of the Escambia CARES Family Assistance Grant Program, and applicants should receive confirmation emails within the next three weeks. The additional amount for the awards will come from the reassignment of funds earmarked for the Escambia CARES Business Assistance Grant Program and from the third phase of funds that the state has allocated to the county but has yet to distribute.
As of Thursday’s board meeting, 1,500 applications have been approved and prepared to send to the Escambia County Clerk of Court’s Office for payment with another 1,500 under a second review for approval.
“We just need everyone to have patience as we process the incredible volume of applications we received,” said Clara Long, director of Neighborhood and Human Services. “Within the next three weeks, we will have the majority of the applications processed and sent for approval. We intend to reach out to those who may have had trouble filling out their applications so we can help as many residents as possible in our county; however, we ask those applicants to be patient while we quickly work on getting assistance out to those who are clearly qualified.”
Those who haven’t received approval or denial of their application in the next three weeks are those applicants who are in a lengthier approval process. Long said that applicants who are in this longer approval process will be contacted and made aware of their status by the end of this three-week period.
ESCAMBIA CARES BUSINESS ASSISTANCE GRANT PROGRAM
The Escambia CARES Business Assistance Grant Program closed on Tuesday, Oct. 6 and was far less popular. The county only received 490 applications. Distribution of this grant has begun with 76 applications moved forward to funding, all of which were approved for $7,500 of aid. The Board anticipates that most of the approved applications will be funded with the $2.8 million that is allocated for this grant program.
ESCAMBIA CARES RENT AND MORTGAGE ASSISTANCE GRANT PROGRAM
The Rent and Mortgage Assistance Grant was made available by the Florida Housing Finance Corporation to cover rent and utilities or mortgage or utilities in arrears due to a direct loss or reduction of income due to COVID-19. The Board decided to increase the ceiling on the grant to $7,500 to help residents of Escambia County avoid eviction or foreclosure.
ADDITIONAL CARES ACT FUNDING
In addition to CARES Grant funding, the Board approved additional payments from the CARES Act funding. The Board approved the reimbursement of EMS staff from March 1 through the end of the year, the payment of the Escambia County Road Prison IAQ proposal, the reimbursement of the Sheriff’s Office for air purifiers and body temperature kiosks and a payment to Neighborly for software related to the grant programs.
Broadband service at county community centers and parks was also approved. Funding for the network to establish the Broadband would be through the CARES Act with a one-time expense of $720,320. The total annual cost to service the network will be $441,350.
The Board committed to examining the allocation of the final CARES Act Funds, which must be spent by the end of 2020, at the meeting scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 12.