Pinellas County accepting applications for CARES Act money

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton says the plan behind emergency funding programs for individuals and families, and small businesses is to get money out quickly to those that are most in need due to losses associated with COVID-19.

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners voted unanimously in two separate votes April 28 to approve emergency funding programs for individuals and families, and small businesses that are most in need due to losses associated with the novel coronavirus.

Funding for the programs comes from the $170 million the county received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The program for individuals and families will provide up to $4,000 in one-time assistance to those who have lost their jobs or suffered a significant loss in income due to COVID-19. The money can be used to pay overdue rent, mortgage and utility bills.

Individuals must show proof that they lost their job or a portion of their income because of COVID-19. They will be asked to provide documentation, such as past pay stubs, a letter from their employer or proof that the place they worked had to shut down.

During the month in which they suffered losses, income cannot exceed 200% of the federal poverty level. For a one-person household that would be $2,127 for individuals, $2,853 for a two-person household, $3,620 for a three-person household, $4,367 for a household of four, $5,113 for five people, $5,860 for six, $6,607 for seven and $7,353 for an eight-person household.

They also cannot have liquid assets of more than $4,000, which includes cash, or money in a checking or savings account.

Commissioners discussed and acknowledged that a number of residents in need of help may not qualify because their income exceeds the limitations; however, County Administrator Barry Burton said the goal is to help those most in need first. If any money is leftover, a phase two will be considered, he said.

Individuals also must provide proof they live in the county using a driver’s license or utility bill with a current address. They must have legal status and provide proof of U.S. citizenship or other legal residency status.

One-time assistance cannot be used for COVID-19 related costs paid by insurance or another federal program.

Money will be paid directly to landlords or utility companies for past due bills.

The program will be managed by 2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares in coordination with the county.

For more information, visit covid19.pinellascounty.org.

To apply, text COVIDCARES to 898211 or call 211. Applications will be accepted until June 1.

Small business grants

A second program will provide grants of up to $5,000 to small local businesses that have had to close or have reduced their operations due to COVID-19. The money can be used to pay employee wages, vendor bills, mortgage, rent or other business expenses. No reimbursement is required.

Only businesses physically located in the county are eligible.

The program is open to businesses with 1-25 full time employees or equivalent part-time employees, including the owner. Restaurants, bars, short-term lodging and other nonessential businesses that were required to close due to the statewide safer-at-home order are eligible.

The same as with the assistance program for individuals, the one-time funding cannot be used for costs paid for by insurance or other federal programs.

Larger businesses, nonprofits and home-based businesses are not eligible. However, commissioners are concerned that some businesses that need help will not get the assistance they need due to the limitations. They would like to expand the program if any funds are leftover.

Economic Development Director Mike Meidel explained that one reason home-based businesses had been excluded is that they would not have expenses such as rent or mortgage. Paying those expenses helps the overall economy, he said.

Commissioner Karen Seel advocated for including nonprofits that are providing food and shelter. She said donations were down and they could use the help. Staff said they could be included if there is a phase two.

Staff estimates that about 6,500 small businesses would be eligible for the program. It is unknown how many individuals will apply for help.

Burton says the idea is to help those most in need as quickly as possible. But he really can’t predict how much the program for individuals might cost. If all 6,500 small businesses qualified for $5,000, that will take $32.5 million of the $170 million, leaving enough money to provide $4,000 for about 34,375 individuals.

Small businesses can begin to apply online on May 4. Deadline is June 1. As of April 28, the software was not yet complete.

For more information, visit covid19.pinellascounty.org.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.