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Nonprofit CARES Act Distribution More about Fairness than Favoritism

Tuesday's meeting of the Citrus Board of County Commissioners was a three hour affair to divide $300,000 in CARES Act money among 21 nonprofit applicants whose requests totaled over $700,000. Today’s column will be analyzing if the BOCC demonstrated favoritism during the process.

The graphic above, which is low quality as a result of the BOCC feed, is a screen shot of what was available from the meeting that shows how all five commissioners proposed the money should be allocated. The final result that was voted unanimously was to take the average of what each commissioner proposed and use that amount.

Thus, every organization got something and no organization got everything it asked for. Our conclusion is that the outcome was fair, and for the most part, free of favoritism. This could have been a potentially messy process, but the board worked together to find an equitable solution and this should be considered a success.

This issue has many layers that will span several columns. Let’s start with where this money originated.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, was a roughly $2,2 trillion stimulus signed into law by former President Donald Trump on March 27, 2020. Often thought by our public to be specifically earmarked to help small businesses, the bill had wide ranging intended uses with business relief only a small portion.

The main focus was on local government shortfalls and infrastructure.

So how did a small business relief bill that didn’t go to small businesses but rather infrastructure end up becoming a pie sliced 21 ways for nonprofits?

Citrus County had been effectively distributing money to businesses in a process that wasn’t perfect but that was seeing higher percentages of the funds go to our local small businesses than nearly any neighboring or like-sized county in the state.

However, the state moved up a deadline that counties had to distribute funds by a month which caused a large portion of the CARES Act funds to enter the county general fund, further restricting the legal use.

In a last ditch effort to get CARES money into the hands of the public instead of the general fund, the BOCC voted in early December two days before the deadline to allocate this remaining $7.4 million several ways including a three-way division among the county and two cities, additional infrastructure funding for the sheriff’s office and lastly $450,000 for the United Way to distribute to individuals, $1 million to the Chamber of Commerce to distribute to businesses and $550,000 to other community nonprofits providing relief from impacts of the virus.

This last allocation was further divided earlier this year giving $50,000 to what the BOCC called “the big five” nonprofits that had a proven track record of providing relief. These were the Community Food Bank, the New Church Without Walls, WeCare Food Pantry, Blessings and the Veterans’ Coalition.

This $250,000 of the $550,000 allocated for nonprofits, $50,00 for each of the five, was distributed at the end of January and the application process opened for the remaining $300,000 which is how we got to Tuesday.

Before a brief analysis of the result, there’s one last thing to establish. The argument might arise that we should be paving roads or giving the money to businesses instead of nonprofits. It is true the money could have been used for residential road resurfacing had the BOCC reversed its Dec. 1 allocation of $550,000 and let it be used as general fund money, however, the initial intent of CARES Act was relief.

These nonprofits all assist in that. Second, the BOCC did allocate $1 million in additional businesses relief, half of which was given back to the county for distribution by the chamber and with only 70% of the remaining funds retained by the chamber going to businesses while the rest went to infrastructure, education or chamber-selected nonprofits. More on that in the Concurrent podcast published earlier this week.

Both the Community Food Bank and the Veterans’ Coalition received additional funding from the $300,000 on top of the $50,000, something that may look like favoritism but that the board back in January did identify as a possibility if the organizations could prove they are spending the money effectively toward relief.

There are some areas that deserve more explanation than this 750 word column, but our conclusion is once again the BOCC acted in fairness rather than favoritism.


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