County earmarks $8 million for COVID-19 rent, mortgage and food aid
Volusia County rolled out two new programs Tuesday to help local residents suffering financial impacts from the COVID-19 crisis, earmarking $5 million for emergency rent and mortgage assistance and another $3 million for food aid. The two new programs are on top of a $10 million grant program the county launched last week to provide financial aid to small businesses.
To provide additional COVID-19 relief, the Volusia County Council on Tuesday agreed to expand the small business assistance grant program and also paved the way for a grant program to assist struggling non-profit agencies. The money for the programs is coming from federal coronavirus relief funds that the county received from the federal government as part of the CARES Act.
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Grants Up To $1,500 Available
To residents who meet the eligibility criteria, the county is offering grants of up to $1,500 per month for a maximum of three months to help with rent or mortgage payments. The County Council unanimously agreed Tuesday to allocate the money to fund the grant program and food aid.
“Volusia County residents have suffered serious financial injury as a result of the COVID-19 crisis,” states a memorandum about the grant program presented to the County Council. “Many of our residents are in need of financial assistance to maintain basic necessities such as shelter.”
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How To Qualify
To qualify, the rent or mortgage must have been current as of March 13, 2020 in order to qualify. Also, the dwelling unit must be located in Volusia County and be the applicant’s primary residence. Applicants must meet income eligibility requirements to qualify. For example, for families of up to four people, the household income must be no more than $77,880 to qualify. For applicants who meet the eligibility criteria and are approved for the grant, the county will make payments directly to the landlord or mortgage holder. Applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis and can be obtained by calling the Volusia County Department of Community Services at 386-736-5955.
Councilwoman Heather Post praised the efforts of the Community Services Division to get this and other COVID-19 assistance programs up and running to assist local residents who’re suffering financially from the impacts of the pandemic.
“Your work is going to help so many families in the community,” Post told Community Services Division Director Dona Butler. “I thank you for your efforts. I’m very glad to see this.”
With non-profit agencies reporting shortages in food supplies for residents in need, the county also agreed Tuesday to provide $3 million in relief funds for food aid as part of a new Feed A Family grant program. The county is planning to contract with Food Brings Hope, The Neighborhood Center of West Volusia, United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties and Halifax Urban Ministries to purchase and distribute the food.
Also Tuesday, the council agreed to expand the county’s small business assistance grant program that was launched last week. Initially, money was set aside for a maximum, one-time grant of $3,000 for small businesses with 25 employees or less or the equivalent number of part-time employees to help offset financial losses caused by the coronavirus. As of Monday afternoon, the county had received 1,690 applications. On Tuesday, the council agreed to expand the program with maximum $5,000 grants to businesses with between 26-50 employees or the equivalent number of part-time employees. Grant requirements and applications are available on the county’s business resources web site:
Assistance For Non-Profit Agencies
The council also laid the groundwork for the establishment of a $2.5 million COVID-19 grant program to assist non-profit agencies in the community. The details of that program are expected to be ironed out at a special meeting of the County Council next Tuesday, May 26 at 10 a.m.
The rental, mortgage and business assistance grants and the food aid are part of Relaunch Volusia, the county’s plan for resuming full county services, programs and facilities and helping the community recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. And county officials say more help is on the way, given the federal funds that it has received to help the community mend.
“The staff is connected as they’ve ever been to these communities,” County Manager George Recktenwald told council members. “I think that the message here is that we’re not just spending it all at once, but we have it to spend. And we are looking and we want to make sure that it is spent wisely – invested wisely in the community. But it will get spent.”
Good News For DeLeon Springs
DeLeon Springs is getting a double dose of good news now that funding has been secured to bring central water and sewer lines to the U.S. Highway 17 corridor that runs through the center of this northwest Volusia community.
The Volusia County Council inked an agreement on Tuesday with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which has agreed to fund the $2.5 million project. Installation of sewer lines is seen as a critical step in protecting the delicate spring basin from nutrient pollution, and that’s why DEP is putting up the grant money. The county laid out the proposal for the pipeline during a community meeting in DeLeon Springs in February. Residents are elated that the project is now ready to move forward, Amy Munizzi, president of the DeLeon Springs Community Association, told the County Council on Tuesday.
“We’re just excited about our future again,” Munizzi told council members. “It’s been a win-win from the Florida level to the county level, the community level. It’s good government. It really is. It’s exciting to see.”
Connected to the St. Johns River through a series of lakes and creeks, the popular spring at De Leon Springs State Park was designated by the state Legislature in 2016 as an Outstanding Florida Spring. The designation provides an additional layer of protection to the spring shed. But it also comes with the responsibility to remediate the harmful impacts of pollutants, including nitrates that leak into the groundwater from agricultural and residential fertilizer use and traditional septic tanks and flow into the springs. The pipeline project is designed to provide central sewer service along the U.S. 17 strip and encourage the switch over to a more environmentally friendly treatment method.
“This project represents an essential step toward improving water quality within the spring basin by establishing a centralized wastewater treatment system and allowing the conversion of private wastewater package plants and conventional septic systems,” states a memorandum included in the County Council’s background information regarding the DEP grant. “This strategy will help reduce current levels of nutrient pollutants while providing much needed infrastructure to prevent additional nitrogen loading resulting from increased population within the priority focus area of the spring basin.”
Because the state has mandated adoption of a septic system remediation plan for the area surrounding the spring, Mike Ulrich, the county’s director of water resources and utilities, said doing nothing isn’t really an option. The community would still have to come up with a remediation plan on its own and find a way to pay for it.
“The folks that are in that community would have to bear the burden themselves. And that’s not something that’s really desirable,” said Ulrich. “They love their spring. They love their elementary school that is in this area. But it’s also a community that is very concerned about the impact of remediation of septic tanks as well – making sure that that cost isn’t inequitably shared for these state issues that are going on.”
The project entails the design and construction of 3-mile long water and sewer pipes that will connect to the City of DeLand’s utility lines at U.S. Highway 17 and S.R. 15A and run north along U.S. 17 all the way to McInnis Elementary School in DeLeon Springs. An agreement is in the works for the school to connect to the system, and other businesses along the route have also expressed an interest in hooking up. Since most of the territory is within DeLand’s utility service area, the pipelines will most likely be turned over to the city when they’re completed and the city will become the service provider. Work on the pipelines is expected to be done by December of next year.
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