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State help addresses effect of business shutdowns

David Adlerstein
The Apalach Times
The Apalach Times

To no one’s surprise, the closures mandated by Gov. DeSantis’ stay-at-home orders that began in late March, led to a surge in the number of requests for government help.

According to the Florida Department of Children and Families’ public assistance caseload report, the number of requests for assistance - which had ranged between 88 and 135 per month, between June 2019 and Jan. 2020 - rose to 146 in February, to 140 in March and then to a whopping 346 in April. Because these requests were already in the pipeline, and now were ongoing, the number of new requests dropped back to 103 in May.

The number of food stamp households, which had ranged between 727 and 795 back to June 2019, shot up to 965 in April, and then to 1,054 in May, a level not seen since March 2016.

These food stamp numbers meant a jump from 1,367 clients in March, to 1,822 in April and 1,979 in May.

In terms of dollar amounts, food stamp volume in the county more than doubled in April, from about $160,000 in March, to more than $406,000 in April, and then down to about $358,000 in May.

The county saw a jump in aid to needy families, a program that gives cash assistance designed to help families become self-supporting while allowing children to remain in their own homes.

Those numbers jumped from about 30 families per month back to June 2019, to 34 in March, 35 in April, 41 in May and 48 in June. This meant a 55 percent increase over the year for the county, compared to a roughly 18 percent climb statewide.

The dollar value in this TANF aid, which had been running about $7,000 per month over the past year, climbed to about $7,900 in March, $8,400 in April, over $10,000 in May and more than $11,600 in June. Monthly numbers as high as these hadn’t been seen since May 2008, at the outset of the Great Recession.

On Tuesday morning, county commissioners approved a request from Lori Switzer, who heads up the county’s SHIP (State Housing Initiative Partnership) program, to move forward with disbursing $175,000 that the county received to help families struggling with the COVID-19 closures with rent, mortgage or emergency repairs.

The money comes as part of $120 million of the State of Florida's Coronavirus Relief Fund that the governor allocated to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation to help meet those needs.

Switzer told commissioners the relief fund is a portion of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump in March in response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county’s SHIP program will administer the program, known as “Florida Housing's CRF Fund for Impacted Homeowners and Renters.”

A unanimous vote by the commissioners means that money will be available for “very low, low, and moderate-income applicants,” with each household eligible to receive a maximum of $2,500 in assistance.

Switzer said applications will be accepted beginning Monday, August 24, with the application period ongoing until the funds are spent. Packets are available for pickup at the SHIP office beginning Thursday, August 13.

Switzer cautioned that the monies, which must be spent by year’s end, are available only to those unemployed or underemployed due to the pandemic. “We can’t help them if they’re on Social Security and they didn’t lose any income,” she said.