The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners has approved a second phase of the Pinellas CARES program to provide financial assistance to individuals, families and small businesses.
The new program eliminates many of the requirements that were in the first phase of Pinellas CARES. It would spend up to $157.8 million from the $170 million the county received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, designed to address economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The expanded program addresses the most pressing needs resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, said Aubrey Phillips, strategic performance manager in the county’s office of management and budget. It also gives a lot of flexibility to County Administrator Barry Burton to adapt and respond to changing needs, Phillips and Burton said.
Under the new program, roughly one-third of the program funds would go to individuals and families, one-third to small businesses and one-third for public health. It includes a broader range of people and companies who lost income due to COVID-19. It also provides $1.5 million in funding for navigators who will help existing community partners raise awareness of Pinellas CARES and help applicants fill out forms.
Here are the highlights of Phase Two of Pinellas CARES and the estimated investment in each part of the program.
Individuals and families
• $26.2 million – Financial assistance for overdue rent/mortgage and utility payments
“This would expand eligibility to individuals and families with $10,000 or less in liquid assets that have lost their job or significant income due to COVID-19,” Phillips said. “It increases the cumulative maximum award per household to $5,000, and applicants who did not previously qualify or have already received help or need additional assistance for overdue bills can re-apply.”
• $30 million – Nonprofits that provide services directly related to COVID-19, including food and housing insecurity and behavioral health
• $2 million – Workforce reemployment, retraining and placements done in conjunction with CareerSource Pinellas
The expanded Pinellas CARES program for individuals and families removes income eligibility requirements, and is open to those whose income fell because they lost their job or their hours were cut, Phillips said. It increases the cumulative maximum award amount from $4,000 to $5,000. People who applied and got aid earlier can apply again.
It removes a previous requirements to submit documentation such as bank accounts or proof of employment. Now, an individual or family simply has to sign a form attesting to assets and income, and can submit it by taking a picture of that form, instead of having to scan it.
• $26.2 million – Grants to “bridge the gap” for small companies. The initial program provided $5,000 grants and focused on storefronts that were forced to close as a result of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ statewide stay-at-home order. The new program would be open to businesses with $3 million or less in annual revenue who generally have 25 or fewer employees. The grants would be on a sliding scale from $2,500 to $10,000 based on the company’s 2019 gross revenue, Phillips said. It also includes home-based businesses.
• $5 million – Grants to licensed childcare facilities to mitigate the impact of low enrollment and increased costs as a result of COVID-19
• $5 million – Reimbursement matching grants up to $10,000 to help target industry businesses implement COVID-19 related health and safety precautions
• $2.5 million – Microgrants via Creative Pinellas to support professional artists, art/creative business and nonprofit arts organizations
• $5 million – Microgrants for a business diversity program, for businesses that “fell through the cracks” initially, Phillips said. “They did not qualify due to language barriers, technology deficits, lack of business acumen in record keeping and a variety of other barriers,” she said. “A business diversity microgrant would combine financial assistance with capacity building.”
Public health mitigation and response
$43 million – Build local capacity for testing, contact tracing, skilled nursing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and community health educators
“What we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks is a huge need for PPE to support our nursing homes, our hospitals, our first responders,” Burton said. “We ramped up and purchased a lot more PPE to make sure we are ready. We’ll continue to that.”
The county health department director earlier Tuesday told commissioners there has been a big increase in hospitalizations and the number of COVID-19 patients in Pinellas County hospital intensive care units is higher than it’s ever been.
There’s another $12. 9 million set aside to reimburse local government costs related to COVID-19 mitigation and response. Burton said he was meeting with representatives of local governments in Pinellas later Tuesday to determine their needs.
During Phase One of Pinellas CARES, the individual and families assistance program spent about $5 million through June 30, while the small business program spent about $15 million, a report to the commission said.