BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – County commissioners on Tuesday approved guidelines for a program that provides federal financial aid to Brevard County residents having difficulty paying their mortgage or rent because of the coronavirus pandemic, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.
Some of the 14 members of the public addressing the commission on the issue said that, while they appreciate the help for residents who are struggling financially, they believe the plan has flaws.
That includes what they felt was a complicated application process that some people who otherwise would qualify for the program might have difficulty completing.
They also believe that the County Commission should have set aside more money for this program from the $105 million in federal aid from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act the county received on April 23.
On May 5, the County Commission approved, by a 3-2 vote, using up to $4.4 million of that money for a rental and mortgage assistance program, a utility and security deposit program, and a food stability program.
Commissioners on May 5 also unanimously approved designating $61 million of the $105 million for five categories of public health and safety programs to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those allocations supported recommendations of County Manager Frank Abbate, and the money will be shared with Brevard's municipalities.
That leaves $39.6 million still to be allocated.
The maximum assistance for applicants for the housing aid program will be for up to three months of housing costs — totaling as much as $7,200. Payments will be made directly to the mortgage company, apartment rental company or landlord, rather than directly to the applicant.
Brevard County Housing and Human Resources Director Ian Golden said applications will be available on his department’s website and at the county’s libraries, likely later this week. He said the county also is working to establish a system for applicants to complete the paperwork on a mobile phone.
Golden and his staff devised the eligibility qualifications for individuals to tap into that money for mortgage and rent assistance, which commissioners approved Tuesday.
Under the plan, to be eligible for the assistance, the applicant:
- Must be a resident of Brevard County.
- Have income not to exceed 140% of area median income ($67,900 for one person; $77,560 for two people; $96,880 for a family of four).
- Must demonstrate an impact from the coronavirus.
- Must have a loss of at least 25% of their income.
- Must not have "liquid assets," such as savings and checking accounts, certificates of deposit and money market funds, that exceed $8,000 per household.
- Must disclose all other assistance received, such as a tax refund and unemployment compensation. Money received from any unemployment compensation or federal CARES Act payments of up to $1,200 to individuals would be subtracted from the maximum grant amount.
Money from the county program will be provided in the form of a grant to income-eligible residents on a first-come, first-served basis, contingent on the availability of money.
The grant guidelines were approved Tuesday by the same 3-2 vote that the $4.4 million allocation was approved on May 5. Voting in favor were Vice Chair Rita Pritchett and Commissioners Kristine Isnardi and Curt Smith. Voting against were Chair Bryan Lober and Commissioner John Tobia.
Satellite Beach resident Sanjay Patel told commissioners that the financial assistance is crucial.
"Folks are hanging on by a thread," Patel said.
Titusville resident Pam Dirschka asked commissioners to allocate the remaining $39.6 million for direct support for families and small businesses.
But commissioners took no action on that proposal.
Melbourne resident Samantha Nazario was critical of a suggestion by Lober to make any future financial aid to individuals through the county’s CARES Act money in the form of loans, rather than grants.
"This is ridiculous," Nazario said. "Where is your compassion?"
Tobia voted against the guidelines for individual housing assistance because he felt that there are other federal and state programs that already are helping people in need, such a $1,200 federal payment to individuals that is part of the CARES Act, as well as federal and state checks to the unemployed. He also is worried that some of the county grants would go to non-U.S. citizens or to convicted felons.
"I just don't think that it's the wise … I don't think it's the proper thing," Tobia said. "And I quite frankly don't think it's the conservative thing."
But Isnardi, Pritchett and Smith felt the money is properly being directed to Brevard residents who need it, based on the guidelines Golden's department established.
"I think it's great," Isnardi said, with little chance of abuse.
Because the housing assistance payments are made directly to the mortgage company or the landlord, Smith said, applicants couldn't use the grant money "to buy a Jet Ski or a bottle of whiskey."
Responding to criticism raised by some residents, Golden said: "We do try to have a heart in the department," while adding that "we are not going to be able to help everyone."
Golden said he believes the need among Brevard residents for the grants will exceed the $4.4 million that was allocated for the program.
That's especially true, Golden said, because some of the $4.4 million is designated for programs to help food banks and other food distribution programs.
Golden said that, because of strict federal guidelines for use of the CARES Act money, applicants must provide information on the application about their income sources and housing expenses, for example. And they must demonstrate there is a coronavirus connection to their financial hardships.
The County Commission will be on recess during June. But Lober said he would call a special meeting if the $4.4 million is fully committed before July, so commissioners can consider whether to add more money to the program.