Like other local governments in Georgia, the city of Statesboro will not receive a once anticipated second round of CARES Act funding for COVID-19 expenses, but city officials are still directing $250,000 to programs to assist residents and businesses.
This includes $100,000 designated for rent and mortgage assistance, $75,000 for small-business grants, and $75,000 for utility bill assistance.
“As we navigate this unprecedented chapter in our nation’s history, the council members and I want to make it abundantly clear to the people of Statesboro that they are not alone and that we are standing with them,” Mayor Jonathan McCollar said in a press release. “We are extremely thankful to be able to provide some assistance during this very difficult time for many families and businesses within our community.”
The United Way of Southeast Georgia will administered the rental and mortgage fund, with a maximum grant per family of $3,000. It’s for people who are struggling to pay rent or have fallen behind of mortgage payments after being affected by the pandemic.
Georgia Southern University’s Business Innovation Group will administer the small business fund, with a maximum grant of $5,000 for qualifying, pandemic-affected business owners.
Action Pact, the organization formerly known as Concerted Services, will administer the utility assistance fund. It will provide up to $175 assistance per applicant for water, sewer, natural gas and electric bills.
The city is still working out details with those agencies, but information on how to apply may be released next week, said city Public Information Officer Layne Phillips.
In the summer, city officials proposed a $600,000 total program, with $200,000 each going to rent and mortgage assistance, small business grants and utility bill assistance. But that was when local officials still anticipated two or three rounds of federal Coronavirus Relief Fund grants, totaling from $3.71 million to $5.72 million to the city of Statesboro alone.
Instead the city received only the $1.7 million in “Phase 1” funds channeled through the state of Georgia, which received the additional money but has now applied it to a different need. The Bulloch County government also received a $2.3 million in “Phase 1” grant. The Coronavirus Relief Fund was established under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, for “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security,” enacted in March by Congress and President Donald Trump.
Originally, local governments were advised to expect three phases of the funding, and Bulloch County and its four towns were forecast to receive $13.9 million, out of $1.84 billion the state government received and planned to channel to local governments throughout Georgia.
But by September, Statesboro and Bulloch officials expressed doubts about the third phase of the funding when the state did not provide local governments information on when to apply for the second phase. The CARES Act set Dec. 31 as the deadline for eligible expenses.
Kemp changes plans
Then Gov. Brian Kemp announced Oct. 14 that as much as $1.5 billion in Coronavirus Relief Funds would be allocated to repay borrowing for the Georgia Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.
Indirectly, money that might have gone to second and third rounds of grants to city and county governments instead went to the expanded unemployment benefits received by a record number of Georgians during and after the pandemic shutdown.
In August, Statesboro City Council, the mayor and City Manager Charles Penny had discussed at length using CARES money to create financial assistance programs for people in the community. Penny reminded the elected officials of this during the Oct. 20 council meeting.
“But I also told you at the time that I didn’t want to do anything until we were sure that we were going to get a second round of CARES Act money, and sadly, last week we found out we weren’t going to get a second round,” he said. “The governor has chosen to put the money in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, which needs money too.”
So Penny presented a downsized proposal.
“I know all of y’all and I felt like you’d still want to do something. ….,” he told the mayor and council members. “Let’s see if we can’t do something with the money that we have received, and we have received $1.7 million.”
In Statesboro’s application, that $1.7 million grant was justified on the basis of the city’s public safety costs for March 1 through July 31. All pay for Police Department and Fire Department personnel responding to calls was eligible on the rationale that they might encounter someone with COVID-19, as Penny had told the council.
The wages and salaries of those employees were already budgeted from other sources. But the funding will help reduce the amount the city has to spend from its cash reserves with revenues negatively affected by the economic shutdown and without a tax increase, Penny said.
Size of the need
In May and June, the city collected $42,000 in donations and carried out its own local relief program for small businesses and families. The United Way, which also administered the family assistance portion of that program, reported that127 applications were submitted online, but only 50 applicants submitted required documentation and just 22 applications were approved. The 16 rental assistance grants totaled $7,169, while the six utility bill assistance awards amounted to $1,360, according to a memo Carey Melton, executive director of the United Way of Southeast Georgia provided Penny.
As of Oct. 20, the United Way was seeing a spike the families and individuals facing eviction. But if some of the applicants met the requirement, the amount they owed would be $1,500 to $2,000, so the previous city grants, capped at $500, would not be enough to save them from eviction for even 30 days, Melton wrote.
Meanwhile, the number of active Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, or “food stamps” cases in Bulloch County was 6,720 households with 14,348 individual clients, up from 4,883 households with 10,436 individuals in January. The number of SNAP applications processed, 334 in January, peaked at 1,240 in April and was 522 in August.
Monthly SNAP benefits in the county, almost $1.3 million in January, climbed to more than $2.45 million in August, according to the memo Penny received from Diane Hardee, director of the Bulloch County Department of Family and Children Services.
“When you look at those numbers, there are folks out there needing help, so what I want to recommend to you is that we can take 250,000 out of that 1.7 (million) and provide assistance,” Penny told the mayor and council.
All $250K to relief
Penny at first proposed designating $75,000 each for rent and mortgage assistance, small-business grants, and utility assistance, plus $25,000 for administrative fees to the three nonprofit organizations that will administer the programs.
The Business Innovation Group had not asked for any help with administrative costs, but Action Pact and the United Way had, Penny reported.
Then McCollar asked that, instead of taking the $25,000 for administrative fees out of the $250,000 from CARES Funding, the city pay the administrative fees from other revenue and put all $250,000 into relief. The $25,000 was instead added to mortgage and rent assistance fund, increasing it to $100,000.
City Council specific the maximum amounts for each type of grant and unanimously approved the program.