CARES Act Funding Needs to Get Out into the Community Quickly

Guest Correspondence

BY CHRISTINE ROBINSON SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY AUG 15, 2020

Sarasota County is about to make some important and pivotal decisions on CARES Act funding. This is funding provided by the federal government, flowing through the states and then to the counties for distribution for COVID-19 relief.

The first round of this money went to counties of a population of 500,000 or higher. We are considered a smaller county and we are in the second round. Sarasota County is eligible for just over $75 million.

On July 7th, The County Commission wisely rejected, for the time being, the percentages recommended by staff on how the money should be distributed. They also wisely, temporarily accepted the buckets subject to change when they received further plans. We are grateful to the commission for not locking themselves in and giving the public the opportunity to weigh in. It was a smart decision that will help with public trust in how this money is spent.

The County Commission will begin making firmer decisions at a special meeting on Wednesday, August 19th. This meeting is crucial for our community’s recovery. Individuals, businesses, and 501 (c)(3) and 501(c)(6) non-profits have suffered for months due to the pandemic and this relief can’t come soon enough, and it will not be enough. However, it is a start and will help.

Crucial to the commission’s decision-making are basic principles that should be recognized and adopted prior to getting into the minutia or the specific recipient of the money. First, the commission should commit to getting the money spent by December 15th.

As of right now, subject to changes in the federal government, these monies have to be spent by December 30th. It is a use it or lose it situation under the current rules. The Commission needs to give a deadline in the form of an explicit motion that their clear policy is that these allocated funds be disbursed by the county by December 15th unless the federal government extends the deadline. It is an important goal to work towards and sends a message that they will expect that this money gets invested quickly.

A second basic principle is that the community- individuals, businesses, and 501 (c)(3) and 501 (c)(6) non-profits- will get these funds, and government will not be taking a substantial portion of this funding. The community has experienced drastic job loss and economic disruption. This funding is crucial to our economic recovery and every priority should be made to push these funds directly to the people who need it, and it isn’t government.

Finally, the commission should consider communities who have been disproportionately affected and have been unable to access local aid. Special considerations should be made including outreach and assistance in applications, setting aside funding for access, and also projects that will be impactful and long-lasting.

It has been a remarkably difficult time to be an elected official right now with the suffering and fear in the community. Now, there are important decisions ahead for the County Commission for our community’s future. They have the ability to begin the healing in our county by using this money wisely, listening to the community and their needs, and eliminating the barriers to access this money. We are grateful for their service and look forward to a step towards a brighter future.

Christine Robinson is the Executive Director of the Argus Foundation.

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