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Friendly Exaggerations a Problem in Chronicle Coverage of CARES Act

On occasion, more frequently when I was younger, I would respond to questions with a white lie to make me look smarter or I would exaggerate stories to make myself and friends appear grander. Have I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in its entirety? I’m sure I’ve answered that question in the affirmative at some point because I read chapters here and there and watched a movie once.

My friends and I were out golfing once and a pop up storm ripped through the course. Hurricane strong winds with lightning striking around so close you could feel the heat from the flash on your skin. In actuality, I retire to the clubhouse at the first rumble of thunder even if the sun is still out.

These fallacies are part of human nature. We want to look good in front of people we don’t know and we want the people we do know to succeed in trail over hardship. I’ve consciously tried to stop doing this, however, making sure to maintain the closest iteration to the truth in most circumstances unless the context is such where the quality of the story matters more than the veracity of the content.

The Chronicle’s opinion editorials have been guilty of this act when it comes to the CARES Act funding, and Friday’s paper was no exception. Two days ago, the Chronicle editorial advocated that additional CARES Act funds that appear to be coming soon be used for economic stability, specifically to be distributed by the Chamber of Commerce.

I agree with the sentiment of what the editorial is trying to say, but don’t think it was well-worded nor do I think the Chamber has proven it can distribute the funds as effectively as what the county was doing itself though this could change.

Let’s start with the introduction of yet another new term: economic stability. Terminology might seem unimportant, but not being able to define the phrase business expansion is what stalled this process for about a month.

If a new term is going to be introduced, it should be revenue replacement. In my experience, a majority of people unfamiliar with the details of the CARES Act funds think the money is available for revenue replacement.

Companies lost business while people were adhering to lockdowns, and continue to lose revenue through any part of the fallout from fewer people traveling to the county to people not spending money from losing their income. Relief money should go to offset these losses.

However, revenue replacement has not been a legally acceptable use of CARES Act funds since the final $7.4 million has been distributed including the $1 million that was initially designated to the Chamber for distribution to businesses. The legally acceptable use was for business expansion, including paying businesses that rehired furloughed employees with up to a $2,000 distribution per employee. On the surface, this looks less like relief for businesses that are struggling and more like a reward for businesses that are recovering.

This is not the Chamber or the county’s fault, it’s the way the law is written, but more work needs to be done to educate people who are frustrated that it doesn’t appear the money is being spent properly.

The Chronicle should be using its opinion section to publish editorials that inform as well as persuade, but increasingly often through this CARES Act process it is instead using the space to exaggerate the effectiveness of organizations to which it is friendly. Last year, it brazenly claimed the United Way would provide distribution of resources cheaper than what the county has done. United Way’s overhead is 10%, substantially more than less than 1% at which the county was operating, which can be okay to reach more at-risk populations the county couldn’t otherwise serve.

I again got that feeling about the second to last paragraph advocating for the distribution efforts to go through the Chamber when more relief comes. The Chamber staff has worked tirelessly to try to make this work, and they are at least in part hamstrung by restrictive language in the law and by people’s own perceptions of how the money should be spent. It’s far too early to determine if that is the best course of action though right now I would disagree and advocate for the county to retain control of all or the vast majority of the distribution efforts.


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