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Here’s what you need to know to get emergency financial help from Pinellas County

Margie Manning

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Pinellas County will start taking applications today for an emergency financial aid program for low-income individuals and families who lost jobs or had work hours cut because of the Covid-19 crisis.

The Pinellas CARES Financial Assistance Program is one of two assistance programs approved by the county’s Board of County Commissioners Tuesday. The other program, for small businesses, will begin taking applications May 4.

To fund the programs, the county is tapping the $170 million the county received under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act.

“The amount of funding we received is to help provide a bridge,” Barry Burton, county administrator, told commissioners. “There’s not enough funding to talk about loss of income and things like that, that many businesses and others have requested assistance for. We’re asking that we take this in two pieces. One, we get this money out quickly … and second, we will look at the funding available after that and have a more thoughtful approach in terms of the amount of funding left, and the ways we could use those funds to offset the impact of coronavirus.”

Here’s what you need to know about the programs.

Pinellas CARES Financial Assistance Program

Description:

• To provide one-time assistance to individuals or families of up to $4,000 to pay overdue rent, mortgage or utility bills

Eligibility criteria:

• U.S. citizen/legal permanent resident

• Pinellas County resident

• Income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. For one person, that’s $25,520 and for a household of two, that’s $34,480.

• Liquid asset equal to or less than $4,000, such as cash, savings or checking accounts

Verification:

• Demonstrate loss of income as a direct result of Covid-19, such as a layoff or furlough notice, or proof of reduction in work hours

Process:

• Text COVIDCARES to 898211. There will be a series of questions and prompts to walk an applicant through the process, and tell the applicant how to provide details for submitting required documents to a designated email address

OR

• Call 211, where county staff will gather eligibility information to assist with preliminary screening and help facilitate the documentation process.

Residents will be contacted when their case is approved or denied. Financial assistance is paid directly to the landlord, mortgage holder, and/or utility company.

Pinellas County will start accepting requests and processing applications for the Pinellas CARES Financial Assistance Program today (Wednesday, April 29) and the program will continue through June 1.

There’s no cap on the funds for the financial assistance program for individuals and families, because the county doesn’t know how many people might qualify for the program. Burton said he doesn’t want to turn way anyone who is eligible.

Pinellas CARES Small Business Grants

Pinellas County has a better handle on how many businesses will qualify for the Pinellas CARES Small Business Grants program. About 6,500 small businesses are eligible for a one-time grant of $5,000, and Pinellas County expects to use about $35 million from the federal CARES Act money for the business program.

“We wanted to have an amount of money that could make a difference, that could be meaningful in keeping the business running and providing financial relief, and also have a dollar amount that would allow us to reach as many businesses as possible,” said Mike Meidel, director, Pinellas County Economic Development.

It’s intended to help offset a temporary loss of revenue to qualified businesses during the pandemic, and to help businesses retain and pay employees.

Description:

• One-time $5,000 grants (not a loan and not money that has to repaid) to qualifying small businesses to cover expenses such as employee wages, vendor bills and rent. The emergency relief is targeted specifically to help local brick and mortar businesses cover immediate financial needs. Funds can only be used to reimburse the costs of business interruption due to the Covid-19 public health emergency, provided those costs are not paid by insurance or by another federal program.

“You can still participate in other federal programs, you can still receive an insurance payment, but we can’t allow double dipping. Whatever you use this $5,000 on cannot be covered by another source,” Meidel said.

• Businesses that have already applied or received funding from municipal grant programs are eligible for the county program. Owners with more than one eligible business may submit an application for each legal entity.

Eligibility criteria:

• Business occupies commercial space in Pinellas County. That does not include home-based businesses, which were not required to close under the state’s stay at home order, Burton said.

• Has 1 to 25 full-time equivalent employees, including the owner

• Operating since at least Oct. 1, 2019 and still open as of Feb. 29, 2020

• Expected to return to full operations after crisis

Eligible business types:

• Public food service establishments

• Bars, pubs and nightclubs

• Short-term lodging and vacation rental management companies

• Non-essential businesses (companies that were required to close under the county’s safer at home order)

• Places of assembly (bowling allies, music halls, amusement venues and similar businesses)

Ineligible businesses:

• Publicly traded companies

• Home-based businesses

• Non-profit corporations

• Firms with code enforcement liens

• Firms at which the owner or a partner is currently serving a sentence for a financial mismanagement crime

Application process:

• Submit application using digital online portal; it’s a new program, so the county is still in the process of developing the software, Meidel said.

• Document business location, status and employee count

• Demonstrate recent business income and expenses

• Digitally sign and attest that all information is truthful

The process should take 10 to 15 minutes if the applicant has all the necessary documentation at hand, Meidel said.

“We are looking for our community partners such as the chambers, the Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corp., Prospera, Urban League and others that could help take applications. We need every application to be put into the online portal. We’re hoping that those who can’t do so using their smart phone or computer can work with our partner organizations to get that data put in online,” Meidel said.

County officials are starting public outreach and education immediately. That will continue through May 3, with the application portal open May 4 to June 1. The review and approval process should take one hour, and the payment will be issued by check within 10 days of approval.

Businesses may still qualify for other existing funding programs, the county said. Visit www.pced.org/covid19loans for a list of federal and state programs assisting businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Brad Banks

    April 29, 2020at3:18 pm

    I’ve asked this before on here never received a response. When I called the mayors office a month ago they said landlords, small landlords, who don’t receive rent because their tenants can’t pay were the “first people we thought of“ when we put the committee together. I have yet to see any programs or relief for landlords who are not getting rent but we still need to pay our bills. Can someone at the mayors office please respond to this?

  2. Avatar

    Brad Banks

    April 29, 2020at3:26 pm

    Just sent this to a few friends who are in dire need and they mentioned or one of them mentioned they had $4200 in liquid assets but that money was ear marked for things like childcare and food and medical bills etc. Since this is a case by case basis I don’t think you should have a certain limitation on liquid assets that disqualifies people. I think each case needs to be looked at individually Just for reasons that I have described here.

    • Avatar

      Ann Sab

      April 30, 2020at12:57 am

      I agree with you on this. Each individual case is different… some with medical needs, amount of people in household and ages, payments on rent or housing, utilities, transportation. Even health care needs. Should be on individual cases and you don’t want to bankrupt anyone now either!

  3. Avatar

    Rochelle Young

    April 29, 2020at7:51 pm

    I have read 4-5 different articles today on how to apply for this program and so far this article is the ONLY article I have read that provides information on how to get help. Thank you St. Pete Catalyst!!!

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