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CARES Act funds: $56 million remains for Palm Beach County to spend on COVID-19 relief

Dec. 30 deadline fast approaching to spend funds
Posted at 7:37 AM, Dec 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-11 12:39:32-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The clock is ticking for Palm Beach County to spend $261 million in CARES Act funds it received to provide local aid during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county received the funds in April. Data provided to Contact 5 by the county shows that, as of Dec. 7, $56 million is still on the table. The deadline to use the funds is Dec. 30.

Among the remaining dollars includes $9.4 million for emergency mortgage assistance, $16.9 million for the "restart small business grant," of which companies with 25 or fewer employees are eligible, and nearly $10 million in emergency food distribution funds.

"We still have people that need food," Sharon Bebout, with Cason United Methodist Church in Delray Beach, said.

Since March, Bebout and other volunteers at her house of worship have given out hot meals and nearly a half-million pounds of food to people and families in need, with the help of the local feeding organization, Living Hungry.

Bebout told Contact 5 the need for food donations is growing.

"It's not ending. The pandemic's not ending. It's getting worse," Bebout said in an interview. "We're going into the Christmas holidays and children, are they going to have presents under the tree? Probably not because [a lot of] parents are out of work."

Contact 5 spoke with Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker to discuss the remaining CARES Act funds.

Michael Buczyner speaks with Verdenia Baker about unspent CARES Act funds
Contact 5 investigator Michael Buczyner speaks with Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker about the county's unspent CARES Act funds.

When asked if there was any chance CARES Act funds could be returned to the federal government because the county didn't spend the money by the Dec. 30 deadline, she said no.

"We are spending the money every day," Baker said.


Baker said the funding is being used to help the local food pantries.

"If we need to give out more, we'll be giving out more in that regard," Baker told Contact 5, stressing that "those dollars will be expended."

Baker said she believes more funds will need to be shifted specifically to emergency food distribution.

Contact 5 has also learned any additional funds the county has that are unspent, up to $10 million, could be passed along to the School District of Palm Beach County.

"It's reimbursing them for some of the ad valorem dollars they expended in order to keep our students, our teachers and administrators safe," Baker explained.

That's in addition to the $39 million of CARES Act funds available to the district, according to state data.

Contact 5 asked Bebout her thoughts on leftover CARES Act funds being rolled over from the county to the school district.

"I think it should be used to feed the people that need it," Bebout said.

Bebout told Contact 5 she feels not enough money is being sent to organizations helping feed families in need.

"I think I feel angry at this point," she said. "Not mad but angry at the disappointment that it's not reaching where it should be reaching."

Sharon Bebout talks about unspent CARES Act funds
"I think I feel angry at this point," Sharon Bebout says about Palm Beach County's unspent CARES Act funds that could be used to help feed the hungry.

Back at the church, Bebout waited to deliver meals and a smile, during these trying times for her neighbors in need.

"I think there's one word. It's sadness and pure sadness," Bebout reflected. "I wish I could go out and provide the money myself, do it and cook it, but that's not going to be possible."

"We just have to pray about it," she added.


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