Families and small businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic will have to wait until Sept. 15 before they can apply for additional Escambia County’s CARES Act grants. The county commissioners approved the allocations for the assistance programs and some of the parameters at a special meeting held Thursday, Aug. 27.
County Administrator Janice Gilley recommended that households would self-certify how they were impacted by the pandemic by checking boxes for increased expenses for housing telework, groceries, utilization of sick leave, childcare, care of the elderly or disabled and funeral costs. Applicants would need to a photo ID, a driver’s license and a form of primary residency in Escambia County.
Unlike the Florida Housing Authority’s CARES grants where the funds go to landholder, mortgage holders and utility companies, these grants do directly to households.
The initial recommendation from Gilley was not to put any restrictions on the income of the applicants—families living paycheck to paycheck would be in line with those with six-figure incomes. Commissioner Robert Bender was the first to question the fairness and quickly found support from his fellow board members.
The commissioner agreed on setting the income level for eligibility at less than $45,000 and allowing the applicants to self-certify their incomes, knowing the grant awards would be public record. For households with five or less members, the grants would be up to $1500, those over five $2,500.
Another concern of the board was the system would favor those families with internet access and familiar with the online application process. Worried that the grants would be handed out on first-come, first-served basis, Commission Chairman Steve Berry said, “The more savvy tech folks are possibly going to be the first ones that would be able to access the portal. I don’t think that’s the intent of the board.”
Bender recommend a portion of the funds be set aside for people that have issues with their applications. He said, “When people in your district and people that don’t have access to computers, or don’t have the information at their fingertips, to reassure them that we are here to help, we’re going to work through this process with you.”
Commissioner Lumon May stressed the need for the county to help people complete the grant process.
“We have (CARES) money to hire staff,” said May. “We shouldn’t just have regular eight to five hours. I would expect for staff to be in libraries, community centers in the North end, South end, working eight o’clock at night. I mean, this is all hands on deck. There’s a pandemic. We were going to be required to do more, and staff’s going to be required to do more as well as citizens.”
Gilley will present the commissioners her implementation plan for family and business grants at the board’s meeting on Thursday, Sept. 3. The implementation plan is on the agenda for the meeting, but the county administrator has no attachments to the item that provide the public and media any details.