The Alachua County Commission voted unanimously to launch a relief grant program for local businesses and individuals impacted by COVID-19 in a Tuesday meeting.
The funding for the program comes from the $46.9 million the county received from the federal government through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The county must spend the CARES Act money by Dec. 30, or it will no longer be able to spend the money, said County Manager Michele Lieberman.
$36.1 million will go toward the relief grant program, Lieberman said. $15 million will go to businesses, according to the motion filed by County Commissioner Ken Cornell.
Businesses that employ 25 people or fewer can be eligible for up to $10,000, Lieberman said. Those that employ 26 to 50 people can be eligible for up to $15,000. However, businesses with more than 50 employees aren’t eligible for funding.
$21.1 million will go to residents who were laid off or furloughed due to COVID-19, Cornell said. Each resident can receive up to $2,500, which can be used to make rent, mortgage, phone, car, utility, childcare or internet payments.
While County Commissioner Mike Byerly supported the program, he said he’s concerned some of relief funding could be misused.
“How will we verify they are actually paying back rent?” Byerly said. “They might take the money and decide to move to another town.”
Cornell said landlords and utility companies could be a vital tool in spreading citizen awareness about the program.
“I think both the utility providers and landlords need to be letting their customers and tenants know you need to apply to the county’s program so we don't have to evict you, turn off your electricity,” he said.
The rest of the CARES Act money the county received will be distributed across local government agencies fighting COVID-19, Lieberman said.
$1.25 million will fund contact tracing efforts at the Alachua County Department of Health, Lieberman said. An additional $1 million will provide protective gear to public health and safety workers.
$3.3 million will help increase compliance with the county’s COVID-19 health measures, such as its mask requirement, Lieberman said. Of that amount, $800,000 will help maintain social distancing and disinfecting efforts in the county jail, and $500,000 will help the homeless get medical supplies and safe housing during the pandemic.
County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson expressed his support for the plan, which was formed by county staff.
“Excellent plan that you guys have put together,” Hutchinson said. “It is playing three dimensional chess.”