Lee County leaders can do better when it comes to distributing relief money

From Charlotte Newton with Women For A Better Lee, some suggestions on how county leaders could put LeeCares funding to better use helping our county recover from coronavirus. 

OpEd originally published the News-Press on July 17, 2020


With stores closing and parking lots empty, we are seeing firsthand the terrible economic impact of the coronavirus crisis. 

In early May, Lee County received $134.5 million from the federal government to help relieve the financial stress on individuals and businesses caused by this pandemic.  With that in mind, our county commissioners pledged $57.5 million for a Phase 1 distribution of funds of $22 million to households, $25 million to businesses, ($4.5 million for childcare support, $3 million to food banks and $3 million for PPE distribution).

So what has happened with the money?

With the program now up and running, things at the CARES window appear to be a bit slow.  Since its startup, a total $18+ million of the $57.5 million has been disbursed or obligated, according to a July 2 county report.  Of this, $3+ million has gone to households for help with rent/mortgage and utilities, and $4.5 million to businesses.  The rest of the $18+ million went to childcare, food banks, the purchase and distribution to businesses of PPE, and to pay government expenses. 

We recognize that this is a huge lift for our county administrators, facing the governor’s safer-at-home policy and struggling to keep things afloat at the same time. 

Designing a new program, (called “LeeCARES”), developing application and intake procedures, implementing due diligence and vetting, and actually getting the money into the community, is a massive task and demonstrates how hard it is to spend $134.5 million.  

But the amount being trickled out is nowhere near what is needed to kick-start our economy and relieve financial stress.

Sadly, Lee County residents continue to suffer as positive cases and deaths increase.  Many people are waiting on their first unemployment checks, so the myth that people are staying home because they make more than when working, is just that – a myth. 

And with many here not wearing masks, people will continue to remain at home, shop online and cook in their kitchens.  Though the economy is slowly picking up, we are suffering from a 14% unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

After four months of our hunkering down, the county needs to find more ways to reach people and businesses with creative outreach and larger amounts of financial assistance. 

According to the county, its outreach has been “targeted” to clients already on county agencies’ lists, business organizations, schools, and various associations.  The key word here is “targeted.” Women For a Better Lee is urging the county to reach out directly to every Lee resident to notify all about the availability of CARES funds.  Although we’ve heard mention of the CARES program on the nightly news and social media, there are many here who have not gotten the word and are being overlooked and left out. 

What can the county do?  Some ideas:

  • Distribute a free mask to every Lee County resident to encourage mask-wearing as other counties have done;
  • Increase outreach beyond lists of county clients and special interest organizations by using direct mail and paid TV advertising;
  • Boost the amount available to both families and businesses to give our economy the needed shot in the arm as well as raising the income ceiling that now limits applicants;
  • Create a program to assist those who may be facing eviction once the governor’s moratorium on evictions ends on July 31. 

We are a fiscally conservative county that meters out money carefully – as we should.  But this time of pandemic and economic testing requires bold, innovative thinking – not really an attribute of our county leadership.  The funds are there. Our question: what is Lee County saving the money for?

Women For a Better Lee is a movement led by women and comprised of Lee County voters who seek good governance, smartly-planned growth and a more livable community. 
To get on their mailing list, email:   WFBL2020@gmail.com;  Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/WomenForABetterLee


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