Small counties still waiting for federal funding

Published: Jun. 9, 2020 at 4:42 PM EDT
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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service

June 9, 2020

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Florida’s smallest counties, 55 of them, are still waiting on more than a billion dollars in Federal Cares Act funding while the other 12 larger more urban counties have had the money for months.

The delay is because of how Congress ordered the money distributed.

Congress ordered that the state’s biggest population centers should get their more than $2 billion in Cares Act funds directly from the U.S. Treasury, but it said the governor was best suited to distribute another $1.2 billion to the more rural areas.

They are still waiting.

”Its very disappointing,” said John Meeks, President of the Small County Coalition. “This money is critical to the small businesses and the people who are self employed.”

The same is true in agricultural and tourist dependent Okeechobee County.

“We dumped over 41 trailers of milk out on to the ground because the processing plant wasn’t taking it,” said Okeechobee County Commissioner Terry Burroughs.

Burroughs told us he has modified a plan developed by Pinellas and Pasco counties to distribute grants to small businesses.

“It affected almost everything in our community for the 41,000 people that we have in our community,” said Burroughs.

The delay isn’t political.

Most of the small counties still waiting for money voted Republican, while the big counties that got money mostly vote blue.

And in Hardee County, the delay is creating political problems as residents watch grants being given to neighboring Polk County businesses.

"It’s kind of made some of the local residents here in Hardee County feel like we’re not getting treated fairly as the big counties are being treated,” said Hardee County Commissioner Russel Melendy.

We’ve asked the Governor’s Office about the delay.

One concern is that if the locals misspend the money, the state could be on the hook for it.

The small counties say keeping businesses alive now is critical to keeping a solid tax base in the years to come.