Florida counties are pushing Gov. Ron DeSantis to release nearly $1.3 billion in federal money that has been sitting in state coffers for more than two months, as local officials struggle to keep their communities afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Twelve Florida counties with populations greater than 500,000 – Brevard, Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Lee, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Orange and Volusia – received $2.47 billion in direct payments from the U.S. Department of the Treasury through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as the CARES Act, in March.
But the other money – $1.275 billion – remains unspent, as counties increase pressure on the Republican governor to distribute funds to rural areas that have suffered since DeSantis and local officials shut down most businesses in March to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In recent days, counties have amped up their campaign to get DeSantis to release the funds, even as a disagreement appears to have died down over whether the federal act requires states to hand over the money to local governments.Counties and cities have been “drastically hurt” due to the COVID-19 epidemic, Florida Association of Counties spokeswoman Cragin Mosteller told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview.
“The CARES Act is an opportunity for these counties and cities to have additional resources that are needed in a global pandemic. So it is right to make sure they have those resources. It should not become a battle between governments. This is the federal government stepping in to make sure the citizens are cared for. And the state is holding onto that, rather than making sure that those funds go to our communities so they can take care of our citizens,” Mosteller said.
But a DeSantis administration official told the News Service on Wednesday that “everyone’s been trying to get this money out as quickly as possible.”The state wants to ensure that the funds are going to be properly distributed and used, said the official, who agreed to an interview on the condition of not being identified.
“Anything that a city or a county misuses these funds on … we are responsible for repaying it to the federal government,” the official said. “That’s been the biggest concern that we’ve had, to make sure we get it right.”There also “initially was a lot of confusion” about what the money could be used for, the official said.
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