Orange County unveiled a plan Tuesday to distribute $36 million in federal COVID-19 relief aid to social service agencies and non-profits to provide food, job training and programs for people facing homelessness, mental health issues, addiction and child-care dilemmas because of the virus.
“We recognize there are a lot of needs in our communities that have only grown worse because of the pandemic,” said Randy Singh, deputy county administrator of financial services, who outlined the spending plan Tuesday to county commissioners.
The county’s jobless rate was estimated at 17.2% in June.
The money is part of the $243 million package Orange County received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. The $2.2-trillion economic stimulus bill was passed by Congress and signed into law in March help the nation survive the economic fallout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly half of the $36 million will go to job training (up to $9 million) and food programs (up to $8 million).
“We have over 224,000 people in Orange County who have applied for unemployment benefits,” said Mimi Coenen of Career Source Central Florida, which was chosen to help unemployed workers learn new skills and find jobs. “I know that there’s more.”
With its chunk of the money, Second Harvest Food Bank expects to provide 3 million meals at a cost of $2 per meal. The meals will be distributed through 235 local charitable feeding organizations, including shelters and food pantries.
The plan calls for Second Harvest to double daily production from 12,000 to 24,000 meals. It expects to spend $5.5 million on food, $230,000 on warmers and packing equipment, and $100,000 on refrigerators.
Some recipients will use the funds to purchase face masks and other personal protection equipment. Aspire Health Partners, which will provide 20 beds for inpatient psychiatric services for people with COVID-19, expects to spend $1.1 million of a $4.8 million allotment on PPE.
It also will pay some staff a “COVID-19 differential pay” of 25%.
The federal funds comes with extensive accounting requirements and spending restrictions, Singh said. All assistance must be deemed necessary for the county’s public health emergency response to COVID-19.
Still, commissioners raised concerns that the plan seemed to allow agencies to spend up to 10% of their budgets on administration.
“Too high, way too high,” commissioner Mayra Uribe said in a phone interview after reviewing the plan.
Singh said he expects most agencies will need no more than 2% of the award to get the job done.
He said the administrative cap was set by federal regulation but the county has re-adjusted it far lower.
“We’re cheap here,” he said.
Not-for-profit groups were happy to hear money was on the way for their COVID-19 programs and services.
“This will provide greatly needed funding for people hardest hit by the pandemic,” said Joel Morales, director of operations at Orlando’s LGBT+ Center, which has an emergency housing assistance program. “Many of those we serve work in service jobs and have suffered layoffs and furloughs. This can mean the difference for many of becoming homeless or not.”
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