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Sarasota Friday, Nov. 20, 2020 4 days ago

County pauses federal relief funding applications

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Applications already in the system will be processed. New applications will begin if the county doesn't reach its $75 million limit with existing applications.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

After a rocky start with the process to distribute federal coronavirus relief money, the county has fielded so many applicants that leaders have decided to pause the application process until allocations can catch up. 

In August, the county was one of the last in Florida with populations below 500,000 to begin distributing funds and once it did, many applicants complained about a confusing process.

However, after working out kinks in the program, more than 4,700 business owners and individuals successfully applied.

To date, the county has disbursed $27.1 million with another $8.6 million approved for allocation. That money went to more than 740 households and 573 businesses. 

However, because of the large number of applications already received, the county is pausing the program for new applicants until it can allocate funds to applicants who completed the process already. 

Emergency Services Director Rich Collins said the county has enough applicants to hit the total $75.7 million it has to allocate and not go over. 

“We’re pausing right now,” Collins said. "We haven’t stopped or shut down the program, we paused so that we can work through to identify where our allocations are to make sure that we can get everyone that we can taken care of.”

If the county works through the current applications and still has money left to allocate, it will restart the program. Help for those who were in the process of applying will be paused, but if the program resumes, their applications will pick up where they left off. 

Existing applicants will be able to track their application through the process. 

Collins said the county has more than 100 staff members dedicated to delivering allocations daily and the pause will ensure better case management so that applicants will receive money quicker. 

“This is about taking care of people,” Collins said. “You have business owners that have spent their whole life building a business with their family that are on the edge because of what’s occurred over several months. 

“There are individuals that have lost jobs, that are on furlough —this is about getting the funding out there to help as many as possible.” 

In addition to the pause in applications, the county commission approved changes to the total amount allocated to each type of grant, shifting dollars to categories with the most need. 

The changes are as follows: 

  • $49 million allocated for business assistance;
  • $7.5 million allocated for individual assistance; 
  • $4 million allocated for human services and nonprofits; and
  • $6 million to health and medical nonprofits. 

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said county staff has worked to push funding out quickly and will continue to do so through the Dec. 30 deadline to exhaust the money. If the county has not allocated all of its funds before then, it will have to return the remainder. 

“The effort to help those in need deal with the effects of COVID-19 and keep our community running has been amazing,” Lewis said in a release. “Our employees, CARES ambassadors and chambers of commerce have been working to help those who need it.” 

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