Sarasota County has distributed more than $41 million in grants out of its $75.7 million in CARES Act funds

A total of 6,623 applications submitted

These are the four phases of the county’s handling of CARES Act funding, as noted in an Aug. 19, 2020 presentation to the County Commission. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As of Jan. 13, Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis reported to the County Commission, more than $44 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding had been approved for business grants, and more than $40 million of that had been distributed.

Further, Lewis noted, $4.2 million had gone to arts and cultural organizations in the community, as the County Commission had agreed to allow such groups to apply for the federal funding assistance in the same category as businesses.

Altogether, staff received 2,290 applications for the business grants, county data note.

This is the county CARES Act dashboard for business grants as of Jan. 15. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In regard to assistance to individuals — for rent and car payments and food, for examples — more than $7.4 million had been approved, “and almost $6 million of it has been paid,” Lewis added on Jan. 13.

County staff received 4,167 applications for such funding, the county’s CARES Act “dashboard” showed early in the morning of Jan. 19. As of that time, the total assistance approved had climbed to $7,501,044, with $5,957,392 paid.

The staff assigned to the CARES Act initiative also had approved approximately $1.5 million out of the $6 million set aside for health and medical expenses eligible through the program. Altogether, county data show, 46 applications were submitted for that “pot” of money, and $801,964 had been paid as of Jan. 19.

Finally, Lewis pointed out on Jan. 13, “We have been approved through the state for … 100% of the allocation that we could have received [from the federal government, through the state],” which was approximately $75.7 million.

In a Dec. 22, 2020 email to the commissioners, Lewis wrote, “We received word today that the county has been approved for all of the [CARES] funding. That means the state has approved all of the paperwork and receipts for the County to receive the full 75+Million. This is fantastic work on the part of our CARES team, the clerk of court, and our external public accountant.”

“That was a monster task,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler responded to Lewis’ email, “but helped a lot of individuals & businesses impacted by this unprecedented event.”

Then-Chair Michael Moran also wrote a note to Lewis, commending him for the “Great work.”

Early on Jan. 19, the county’s CARES Act “dashboard” showed that, altogether, 6,623 applications were submitted for CARES Act grants out of the county’s allocation from the state. The maximum a business could receive, the commissioners decided last year — at Lewis’ request — was $49,999.

The maximum grant for individual assistance was $10,000, as approved by the commissioners during a vote on Nov. 4, 2020, again, at Lewis’ behest. Initially, the threshold was $5,000. However, Lewis noted during that meeting that about 23% of the applications for that aid “were bumping up against that $5,000 max.”

This is the county CARES Act dashboard update for individual assistance, as of the morning of Jan. 19. Image courtesy Sarasota County

During the Jan. 12 County Commission meeting, Karen Rushing, clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller, told the board members, “We are rounding out the documentation that we have,” to get the checks to grant recipients. She extended her appreciation to the commissioners and to all the county staff members who had worked on reviewing the applications.

Rushing also expressed thanks for the workers in her office, “who spent Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays through Fridays, making sure that all eligible grants could be made.”

After the State of Florida last year announced the potential amounts counties could receive out of the CARES Act funding that came to the state, Lewis and other county leaders talked of the necessity of working to ensure that each grant the county provided could be backed up by the appropriate paperwork. The goal, Lewis and Emergency Services Department Director Rich Collins stressed, was to make certain that the U.S. Department of the Treasury would not alert the county at a future date that some of the grants were inappropriate. Such a notice would necessitate the county’s returning the questioned funds to the federal government, Lewis said.

Staff submitted all the necessary documentation to the appropriate entities prior to the Dec. 30, 2020 deadline, Lewis added during his Jan. 13 remarks to the commissioners.