Escambia County took another step forward to getting the first $14 million of federal CARES Act funds out the door, but commissioners will still have meet again at a special meeting before the county’s plan is finalized.
The Escambia County Commission voted 3-0 Thursday to approve moving forward with rapid testing, food delivery and additional public health campaigns using CARES Act funding provided by the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
Earlier this month, the county administration released a final outline of how it was planning to divvy up the money. The plan called for half of the money to help families and businesses that have lost income because of the pandemic.
Plan outlined: Half of Escambia County CARES Act funding will go to families and businesses
Commissioners approved the outline and the hiring of consultant firm Blue Sky Emergency Management for $24,560 to ensure any money awarded by the county is eligible under the CARES Act.
The county is working to create an online portal for people affected by COVID-19 to apply for rent, mortgage and utility assistance and expects to release information on the application process as soon as possible.
Commission Lumon May was not happy Thursday with how long it has taken for the county to get its CARES Act funds into the hands of people who need it.
“We got the money in June,” May said. “I’ve been begging for jail testing.”
Deputy County Administrator Chips Kirschenfeld said many of the counties with populations of less than 500,000 people were on the same timeline as Escambia County.
The CARES Act was passed in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus earlier this year. Under the act, the federal government paid out more than $2.4 billion directly to Florida counties with populations greater than 500,000 and provided the state another $1.2 billion to distribute to counties with populations less than 500,000.
Escambia County has already received more than $14 million in funds from the state of Florida from the CARES Act to distribute to eligible individuals or pay for its own cost from COVID-19. The county is eligible for an additional $43 million before the end of the year.
Commissioners wanted more information about what role the consultant will be playing in the approval process and how much additional cost will be involved for the consultant’s services, but agreed to move forward with some of the programs.
“We can direct rapid testing right now,” May said. “After five months of not getting anything done, that’s enough. If all those things are accomplished by the time we come back on Sept. 2, I’ll be clapping.”
Instead of waiting until September, commissioners agreed to have a special meeting on the topic.
The County Commission also approved creating a rapid testing program that would allow for 30,000 tests to be administered by Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital and 20,000 tests to be administered by Community Health of Northwest Florida through Dec. 30.
The county additionally approved $500,000 for “public health campaigns” by Visit Pensacola from CARES Act funds, although the commission hoped the funds could be used to make up for a shortfall in Tourist Development Tax revenue.
The special board meeting on the CARES Act is set for 9 a.m. Thursday.
Jim Little can be reached at [email protected] and 850-208-9827.