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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020 1 year ago

County creates allocation plan for relief funding

The county will focus on businesses and individuals in the first $18.9 million funding phase.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

The county set aside $1.5 million in funds for behavioral health organizations. A previous version of this story said otherwise. 

With $18.9 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to distribute, the Sarasota County Commission approved a framework that would allocate a majority of the money to struggling businesses and individuals.

The first batch of funding is about 25% of the potential $75.7 million total the county could receive to support nonprofits, businesses and municipalities reeling from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first portion of funds will be distributed in three categories: economic recovery for businesses, health and medical for local hospitals and treatment centers, and food, water and shelter for those impacted. The fourth category — safety and security — will be addressed when future federal funding is made available.

Emergency Services Director Rich Collins said the county has identified first-phase programs that could help businesses receive up to $20,000 and individuals receive up to $5,000 if they were affected by COVID-19.

A draft plan presented to the board set aside $6 million to allocate the $5,000 individual grants for food, water and shelter. Another $10 million was allocated for the $20,000 business grants.

Although the money was allocated to two different bins, Chair Mike Moran said the end goal is the same: getting food, water and shelter to people in need.

“I’m concerned there’s a perception that it looks like economic recovery is going to businesses, and food, water and shelter is going to individuals,” he said. “That’s the furthest thing from the truth. The economic recovery is so you have an employer that can give you a paycheck on Friday.”

The county also will set aside $1.5 million in the first phase for health and medical. Those funds will be available to behavioral health organizations.

The draft also set aside $1.4 million for program consultants and members of the Glasser/Schoenbaum Human Services Center to help sift through applications and facilitate fund awards. Legal and accounting consultants will administer economic funds while Glasser/Schoenbaum will administer food, water and shelter funds.

The county will soon begin accepting applications for the funds and must have a plan by Sept. 30 outlining how the money will be distributed. Aside from businesses, arts organizations, nonprofits and chambers of commerce are encouraged to apply.

All funds must be used to reimburse expenses already incurred, and all funds must be spent by Dec. 30.

Although they approved many funding streams, the county declined to move forward with a Visit Sarasota County request for approximately $850,000 to support the local tourism industry with the first round of funds.

Visit Sarasota President and CEO Virginia Haley said the tourism bureau understood and agreed with the county’s decision after seeing what county officials prioritized at the Aug. 19 meeting.

As the county considers future allocations, Haley said Visit Sarasota has pared its request back to about $455,000. Haley said Visit Sarasota is focusing its efforts on properties that host group events, including hotels and sports venues, because surveys showed the pandemic has hit that segment particularly hard.

Haley said hotels have reported solid numbers on the weekends but struggle during the week, when meetings or other business events might typically be in town. County support, Haley said, could make a meaningful difference for individuals working in the tourism industry.

“Instead of having a regular paycheck based on a regular schedule, it’s almost like a boom and bust cycle every week for those employees,” Haley said.

Additionally, the board did not grant a request from several public speakers to set aside funds for the 34234 ZIP code, which includes Newtown. 

Sarasota County NAACP branch President Trevor Harvey said the funds are necessary because the population has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

“Our community has been hit the hardest for a number of reasons,” Harvey said. “Being a community of low economics, we have problems getting quality health care. Many of our residents have underlying conditions, and we have an educational gap that existed prior to COVID-19 that now, because of lack of connectivity and access to equipment, has broadened.”

Although commissioners acknowledged a need, they said they had no formal project for which they could set aside funds. County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said that money could be allocated in the next funding phase, after a specific project is identified.

Deputy Managing Editor David Conway contributed to this report.

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