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Pinellas County approves $170M federal aid package for individual, small business assistance

Residents can get up to $4,000; businesses $5,000.

The Pinellas County Commission approved two programs Tuesday to help residents and businesses suffering financial hardships because of the strain on the economy related to COVID-19.

The Pinellas CARES Financial Assistance Program leverages $170 million the county received from the federal government as part of the CARES Act to provide rental, mortgage and utility relief for residents as well as grants for small businesses.

The county will provide up to $4,000 for residents who are currently earning at or below 200% poverty level. For a single person that is $25,520 annual salary-equivalent. For a couple the limit is $34,480 and for a family of four the income cap is $52,400.

There was some confusion during the Tuesday meeting discussing relief efforts as to whether that cap represented pre-job loss earnings or current earnings. County staff clarified that the income threshold is based on the most recent two weeks of earnings.

That means if a person lost their job entirely, their income would be $0 and they would qualify for the program, even if the job they lost paid higher than the cap allows.

To qualify, residents also must have less than $4,000 in liquid assets, meaning money in a bank account, savings account or cash on hand. Cars and other tangible assets are not considered.

The payments will be made on behalf of residents to their mortgage lender, landlord or utility company.

To apply, residents should text COVIDCARES to 898211. From there they will be taken through a series of prompts explaining how to provide documentation of their job loss or hour reduction as well as current income and assets.

The county is not capping the program. They expect to have enough federal dollars to cover all residents who meet criteria for assistance but will continue providing resources even if the federal dollars are exhausted.

Of the $170 million provided from the CARES Act, $130 million is available for the resident assistance program.

The other $35 million will go toward helping small businesses.

That program will provide up to $5,000 for businesses, including sole proprietor businesses, with one to 25 employees that have operated in the county since at least October of 2019 and remained in business as of the end of this February.

Qualifying businesses must rent or own a commercial property for their business, which excludes things like home businesses or home day care centers, a point commissioners decried during lengthy conversations.

While both assistance programs passed unanimously, commissioners agreed a “phase two” could be in order to capture businesses, particularly day care centers, left out in this phase.

The county estimates the business program will benefit up to 6,500 businesses.

Unlike the individual assistance program, the small business aid comes by way of grants paid directly to the businesses. Though the funding must be used for rent, mortgage, employee retention or direct payments to vendors for purposes of business continuity.

The funding cannot be used in conjunction with other grants or assistance programs unless it is for a new qualifying expenditure. Otherwise, the grants do not prohibit small businesses from utilizing a variety of local, county, state or federal programs.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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