BREAVRD COUNTY, Fla. – Spurred by a plea from County Commissioner Kristine Isnardi to “do the right thing,” commissioners approved allocating some of the money from the county’s federal coronavirus aid package to help local residents struggling to pay for housing and food, News 6 partner Florida Today reports.
By a 3-2 vote on Tuesday night, commissioners set aside $4.4 million of the $105 million the county received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act for that purpose.
However, the $4.4 million allocation was not as much money as some of the speakers addressing the County Commission had hoped for.
More money potentially could be added later, as could a program to help small businesses hurt by financial losses stemming from coronavirus shutdowns.
Details of how individuals can apply for some of the money related to housing and food assistance — including eligibility criteria and the maximum individual grant — should be worked out within the next few weeks, according to Ian Golden, the county’s housing and human services director.
Under federal guidelines, the grants to individuals must be tied to impacts from the coronavirus, such as lost income from a layoff or reduced work hours.
Voting in favor of setting up a grant program to individuals were Isnardi, Vice Chair Rita Pritchett and Commissioner Curt Smith.
Voting against were Chair Bryan Lober and Commissioner John Tobia. They felt the county needs to assure that it has enough money to cover coronavirus-related expenses for the county and Brevard’s municipalities before allocating part of the grant to individuals.
Lober and Tobia also said there already are other federal and state programs in place to help individuals affected by the economic impacts of the coronavirus.
In a separate vote, commissioners designed a total of $61 million from the $105 million federal allocations for five categories of public health and safety programs to respond to COVID-19. Those allocations supported recommendations of County Manager Frank Abbate.
Here's how that funding breaks down:
Medical expenditure program ($16 million): This money would be used for expenses related to eligible medical measures and other measures to increase COVID-19 treatment capacity.
This would include COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and antibody testing; emergency medical services and transport; and public safety COVID-19 response, including by emergency management officials and the medical examiner.
Public health compliance program ($15 million): This money would be used for expenses related to actions to facilitate compliance with public health measures related to COVID-19.
This could include such things as sanitization and social distancing at the Brevard County Jail; telework expenses to comply with COVID-19 precautions, including software, hardware, cell phones and bandwidth upgrades; communication and enforcement of government response to public health orders; sick and family leave expenses that comply with COVID-19 precaution; and non-congregate sheltering.
Public health program ($7 million): This money would go to eligible public health measures and other public safety measures undertaken in response to COVID-19.
This could include paying for personal protective equipment, disinfection of public areas and quarantining.
Public employee reassignment program ($2 million): This money would be used for payroll expenses related to the reassignment of current county employees to duties that are substantially different from pre-COVID-19 duties. The reassignments would be dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health
emergency and related expenses.
Money set aside for future emergencies ($21 million): This money would be set aside for future emergencies related to COVID-19, such as social distancing related to sheltering during hurricanes; to address the shortfall in programs or for other COVID-19 eligible expenses.
The $61 million allocations for the public health and safety programs generated little controversy. Although Pritchett voted against the proposal, she said that’s because the motion Tobia made included no allocations to help individuals meet housing and food expenses.
But there was extended debate on whether any money should be set aside for individuals.
Isnardi said that, from her work as a nurse practitioner, she has heard "horror stories" from patients struggling to survive financially because of the economic impacts of the coronavirus.
"We know people are suffering, and we need to help them," Isnardi said.
"I don't want to wait until July," after the County Commission's June recess, Isnardi said. "People need help now."
Prtichett said she feared there would be an increase in homelessness in the county if the county did not step in to help people facing eviction for non-payment of rent.
The $4.4 million that Isnardi and Pritchett recommended represents 10% of the $44 million remaining from the $105 million CARES Act grant to Brevard — after the County Commission set aside $61 million for public health and safety programs.
Ten speakers addressed commissioners on this issue, most expressing support for allocating some of the federal funds to help local residents.
Among the speakers expressing this view were Rob Rains, president of the United Way of Brevard, and Theresa Grimison, president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation for Brevard.
Rains said the funding would be a "critical bridge" to help those struggling financially and "an amazing opportunity" for the county to help its residents.
Satellite Beach resident Stacey Patel was among the speakers who asked the County Commission to allocate all of the $44 million not set aside for public health and safety programs to programs to that would directly help individuals struggling financially.
Patel — who started a Facebook page called “Coronavirus Mutual Aid Network of Brevard County, FL” — also provided commissioners with an email highlighting the stories of 16 local residents that were gathered on the Facebook page. Patel said the stories “help to underscore the need in our community for direct economic support.”
The programs that county commissioners supported as part of the $4.4 million allocations include:
- A housing rental and mortgage assistance program that could provide an avenue for residents to avoid eviction or foreclosure by providing economic support to those suffering from unemployment and/or loss of income loss due to COVID-19.
- A housing utility and security deposit program that could provide an avenue for residents to obtain utility and security deposit to those suffering from unemployment and/or loss of income due to COVID-19.
- A "food stability program" that could allow for the purchase of commodities — either ingredients to prepare meals or complete meals — to enhance the ability of local food pantries and other feeding agencies like Meals on Wheels to provide food to residents. Beneficiaries would including senior citizens and other "vulnerable populations."
Golden plans to report back to the County Commission on May 19 with more details on how the programs will work and what he believes the demand for them will be.
At their July 7 meeting, commissioners will discuss a proposed program to help small businesses.
Dave Berman is government editor at FLORIDA TODAY.