As deadline approaches, unpaid Florida CARES Act funds prompts worries from leaders

8 On Your Side

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Time is running out for the CARES Act! States and counties have just six weeks to pay out funds provided by the massive coronavirus relief bill.

The language of the CARES Act legislation requires that any funds not paid out by Dec. 31, even if already earmarked for an assistance program, automatically go back to the federal government.

A large chunk of Florida’s share has yet to be paid out, prompting concerns that not everyone who still needs help will receive it.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, says Hillsborough County has already paid out $257 million in small business grants, rental and utility assistance and other relief programs created by the CARES Act. She couldn’t be more proud.

“It has been a lifesaver for families across Tampa and Hillsborough County,” she said.

But Castor is concerned about some of Florida’s smaller counties. She and several members of the state’s congressional delegation penned a letter urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to release all available relief funds as soon as possible.

Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties have more than half a million people, so they receive their CARES Act funds directly from the U.S. Treasury. The state distributes to the smaller counties, which include Citrus, Hernando, Highlands, Hardee, Sarasota and Manatee.

Florida set aside up to $1.275 billion dollars in its CARES allocation to divvy up among 55 counties. To date, $575 million – less than half – has been disbursed.

A spokesperson for Gov. DeSantis explains it’s not a delay or deficiency, but rather by design.

In a statement to 8 On Your Side, he explained that because the state is responsible for any improperly spent relief funds, it only paid out 45 percent of what each county was promised. Anything beyond that, the counties must first pay out of pocket and then request the state reimburse them.

“Time is of the essence,” Castor said. “When you delay, it means more people will fall through the cracks.”

Some county officials, like in Manatee, say they’re less concerned about getting the money from the state before the end of the year. Their challenge will be reviewing all the applications in time to make determinations and disburse before the deadline.

In a letter to Sen. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio and other Florida representatives in Washington, D.C., Manatee’s county commissioners asked for a CARES Act extension. Some D.C. lawmakers have already proposed a bill that would allow CARES Act funds to be paid out in 2021.

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