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Pinellas County Commission approves $170 million in coronavirus relief

Over $112 million in federal funding will go to individuals, families and businesses most impacted by the pandemic.

The Pinellas County Commission approved a plan on Tuesday to distribute the remaining $170 million in CARES Act funding.

The budget proposal, which uses federal funding for COVID-19 relief, is divided into support for three main groups: individuals and families, local businesses and public health programs.

The Financial Assistance program for individuals and families launched May 1 and had been set to expire June 30. It will continue to provide assistance with overdue rent, mortgages and utility payments.

Individuals and families can now receive a maximum of $5,000 in grants, an increase of $1,000 from the previous maximum. Applicants with up to $10,000 in liquid assets are eligible.

Local businesses will also get another chance to qualify for relief grants. Businesses with more than 25 employees and home-based businesses may now be eligible for grants under the expansion.

While the expansion is targeted at businesses that have not received any CARES Act funding, businesses that have already received grants can apply for more.

The proposal set aside a total of $26.2 million for individual and family grants, as well as $36.9 million for local business grants. The grants distributed over the past two months are included in these totals.

With these changes, county leaders hope to provide assistance to more families and businesses that previously didn’t qualify for funding.

The budget also allocated $30 million to nonprofit organizations that supplement basic needs during the pandemic, like food and housing security.

The county’s public health response will receive $55.9 million, including testing, contact tracing, and the purchase of masks for healthcare providers.

Nearly $13 million is reserved for local governments, though the proposal does not detail how much each municipality can receive. County Administrator Barry Burton said he plans to consider dividing the available funds evenly between Pinellas County cities.

The proposal passed unanimously, but not without criticism.

Commissioners raised concerns for individuals whose grant applications are currently being processed.

While Pinellas County has given out $13.8 million in grants to local businesses, only $1.5 million has been given to individuals and families. To secure a grant, applicants must provide proof of residency, a W-9 form, and an affidavit confirming a loss of income directly tied to COVID-19.

Currently, 3,000 applications for individual funding remain in the queue.

“If you want us to cut them a check tomorrow without any documentation, we can,” said Burton. “But then we put ourselves at risk. The program has federal government requirements.”

Commission Chairwoman Pat Gerard called the backlog “crazy.”

“Frankly, I don’t have a problem with us taking on the risk of opening up those guidelines for documentation,” said Gerard.

While more industries are now eligible for grants, some industries remain ineligible, which Commissioner Karen Seel took issue with.

“There should be exceptions if someone can prove they can’t access their customers because of the stay-at-home rules, no matter what category they’re in,” Seel said.

County administrators affirmed that they have the flexibility to make those adjustments as needed, but that some restrictions were necessary.

“If we simply handed out a check to every single business, we wouldn’t have sufficient funds to cover everybody,” said Burton.

For more information and to apply for funding, visit https://covid19.pinellascounty.org/.

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