How Santa Rosa County will spend its $32 million in CARES money, and who benefits

Annie Blanks Pensacola News JournalPublished 5:59 PM EDT Aug 27, 2020Santa Rosa County will spend the remainde

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Santa Rosa County will spend the remainder of its CARES Act funding on public health, education, economic recovery and human services, as well as store $8 million in reserves, as the Dec. 30 deadline to spend the $32 million federal grant fast approaches. 

County commissioners on Thursday approved the flurry of new CARES Act-funded programs intended to help Santa Rosa County citizens who have been affected by the COVID-19-related economic downturn, which range from child care assistance to small business loans.  

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, is a $2 trillion stimulus rescue package to aid individuals, business and communities throughout the U.S. affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19. In Florida, counties with fewer than 500,000 residents are slated to receive CARES funding. 

Santa Rosa County has received $8 million cash in CARES funding, and will receive an additional $24 million in reimbursable funds. Per federal guidelines, it has until Dec. 30, 2020, to spend the funds.

Decisions to make: How will Santa Rosa County spend $32 million in CARES funding before Dec. 31?

Public health and government services: $10.67 million

The county has already agreed to spend $3.2 million in CARES Act funding on two new rapid COVID-19 testing sites in partnership with Ascension Sacred Heart — one in the north end and one in the south end of the county — in an effort to get a better handle on the local impact of the coronavirus. 

The two locations tested more than 500 people just last week, according to Brad Baker, the county's emergency management director.  

Rapid testing sites: Santa Rosa County approves $3.2 million in CARES funds for 2 new rapid COVID-19 test sites

The remaining funds will be awarded primarily for public health purposes, and to agencies within the county and other local government units. The money can be used to reimburse departments for funds expended to address the pandemic, for testing and contact tracing, to purchase personal protective equipment and for other "infection mitigation strategies," according to the county.

Education: $8 million

The board previously approved giving the school district a portion of its CARES Act funding to help the school system adapt to coronavirus-related needs, including an initial $1.6 million allocation so the district could purchase personal protective equipment for brick-and-mortar schools and 1,000 laptops for students who choose the virtual or remote learning options. 

The county has allotted $8 million total for education, about $7.6 million going to the school district and the remainder going to local private schools, at the request of District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker. 

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“Those children in private schools deserve the same protection and offers as the kids at the public schools,” Parker said. ”And the CARES Act funding… (slowing the spread of coronavirus) is what this money is for.”

The school district will expend its share of the $8 million out of its own coffers, and apply for reimbursement from the CARES Act through the county. It has requested the money to pay for plexiglass barriers, technology needs, temperature detectors and other needs, in addition to the PPE and laptops. 

Human services: $2.6 million

The human services programs will begin the first week of September and will be operated through agreements with local nonprofits. The county will front the money for the nonprofits and then get reimbursed from the CARES Act, although if the nonprofits do not spend the money correctly and the county can't get reimbursed, the nonprofits will have to pay back the county.

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“We put together an agreement … that lays out the requirements, and ensures that the funding is expended in accordance with the federal guidelines,” said County Administrator Dan Schebler. “If that sub-recipient fails to follow those federal guidelines, then they are responsible for repaying that. It transfers that liability and tries to insulate and protect the county.”

The following five programs are being created to help county residents: 

  • $150,000: Emergency Utility Water Program 
  • $60,000: Emerging Needs Monitoring and Referral Program – United Way of West Florida (Additional funding of $60,000 is anticipated to be awarded to nonprofits as a reimbursement of actual COVID-related expenditures)
  • $450,000: County Food Security Program
  • $225,000: Rapid Rehousing & Prevention Assistance Program
  • $200,000: Childcare Provider Assistance Program

The county will begin advertising and marketing for those programs next week. 

Economic recovery: $2.67 million

The county's economic recovery program will be established in conjunction with the Small Business Development Center at the University of West Florida, utilizing the process established for the county's earlier SBDC grant program it rolled out in March.

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Through the CARES Act, the county will award grants of up to $10,000 to qualifying businesses that can demonstrate a loss in revenue since March, backed up with tax returns or other verifiable proof.

The funding will be distributed in the following tiers: 

  • $2,000 grant for businesses with less than give employees and 2019 revenues of $500,000 or less
  • $5,000 grant for businesses with less than 25 employees and revenues of $2,500,000 or less
  • $10,000 for businesses with less than 100 employees and revenues of $10,000,000 or less

The program is anticipated to open in early September and will take applications through early November. 

Reserves: $8 million

Due to the constantly changing nature of the pandemic and several unknowns of the CARES program in terms of the reimbursement procedures through the state of Florida and the U.S. Department of Treasury, the county is setting aside $8 million in reserves until it gets additional clarification. 

 The money can also be used in the event of a hurricane event in the area. 

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“Because it still is hurricane season in Florida, we have to be prepared in case you need to have evacuation,” said Gray Swoope, president of Vision First advisors, which the county contracted with to help manage its CARES funds. “COVID plans have to be in place for shelters, and there are some funds there that we’ve worked with to make sure there are funds there in case that happens.”

If the county doesn't spend any or any part of the reserves funding by Dec. 30, it will have to be returned to the treasury. 

Annie Blanks can be reached at or 850-435-8632.
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