CARES Act portal closes after 50,000 Orange County applications started in 90 minutes

Mayor says he ‘wasn’t pleased’ with Monday’s rollout

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – After an initial run Monday didn’t go so well, Orange County tried again Tuesday to allow individuals and families negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic to apply for financial assistance.

On Tuesday, the CARES Act application portal closed after 90 minutes due to the amount of demand and applications received. The county tweeted that the start of 50,000 applications had been received as of about 9:30 a.m. County officials said the portal was closed to new applicants, but those who were in the system would "still be able to complete their uploads” until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday.

The county later clarified that statement in an email to News 6.

“The portal did not accept 50,000 applications, it allowed 50,000 users to come into the system to start the process. Based on prior experience, we are aware that not all users will complete the process of submitting all their documents. Therefore, we allowed 50,000 users based on our goal of accepting 20,000 completed applications."

The county is still accepting applications for small businesses also eligible for CARES Act funding. The county has enough funds to help 6,500 small businesses with grants up to $10,000.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said Monday afternoon that he was disappointed to see the online application portal for individual and family CARES Act money was taken down within one minute after opening at 8 a.m. due to a decision made by staff members to manage the large pool of applicants.

Essentially, the mayor said members of his staff opted to allow the first 2,000 people the opportunity to start the application so the workers could then process those applications very quickly and disperse funding.

“Our staff had the desire to try to manage the applications that we were receiving at one time in the process, get them moving along, and quite frankly, I wasn’t so pleased with how that rollout occurred today,” Demings said.

“I want to make sure that my bills are paid, and I’m now getting very worried,” said Eric Gortzig, who was furloughed in March.

Gortzig said he wanted to apply for help in paying his rent.

He said he set his alarm early Monday morning to apply, and that’s when the website told him to come back because they had reached their limit of 2,000 applications.

“I almost had to buy a new laptop. I was livid,” he said. “I was like, ‘you’ve got to be kidding.’”

Since the mayor didn’t like that approach, when the portal reopens Tuesday, it will accept 20,000 applications before it is temporarily shut down. It will then reopen once that batch is processed to allow another 20,000 individuals the opportunity to apply.

“So I think it’s a better way for us to manage the demand within our community for the crisis assistance,” Demings said.

Those who meet certain requirements can apply to receive $1,000 to help pay for their rent, mortgage, medical bills or utilities.

Thus far, only 500 people of the 2,000 who applied have successfully submitted all the paperwork necessary to complete the process.

Anyone interested in applying is asked to go to to ocfl.net/OrangeCARES so they can see the list of required documents and get those in order before the portal reopens Tuesday.

Demings said he understands residents are anxious about their bills and he hopes that by accepting a large pool of applicants, more people will feel better knowing relief is likely on the way.

“If I know that I submitted my paperwork, there’s hope for me, because we have told them in advance what the guidelines are to qualify. So intuitively an individual maybe will know if they’re within a household whether they qualify or not. So if I’ve applied for the money, I may have some solace in knowing that the money’s coming,” Demings said.

He acknowledged that the demand from residents who’ve lost their jobs or have been furloughed is substantial and it could take time to complete those applications, which is why he’s stressed to his staff the importance of communicating and providing status updates to those in need.

The county has $72.9 million set aside for business assistance, and $72.9. million set aside for individual and family assistance from the federal CARES Act grant.

Also on Monday, the portal opened to allow small business owners the chance to apply for $10,000 in relief. Demings said that process went well with 1,575 submitting their applications.

Applications for both programs can be found at ocfl.net/OrangeCARES.

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