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Here's how Palm Beach County plans to spend more than $290 million from American Rescue Plan

$75 million to be used on water, environmental projects
Posted at 4:26 PM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-12 23:44:35-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Spend time at a line of giving and you will hear stories of struggle and stories of need.

"People are hurting. People are hungry. People have lost their jobs," Edward Woodbury, the Senior Pastor at Peaceful Zion Missionary Baptist Church said.

"I'm seeing a lot of people at these pantries that have never gone before," Beverly Catania said.

You will also hear stories from helping hands like Stephanie Sears from Peaceful Zion Missionary Baptist Church.

"There are a lot of people in this community that do not have," she said. "We've been doing this for over a year, close to a year and a half now, and it has not decreased. If anything, our numbers have increased."

Debra Tendrich with nonprofit Eat Better Live Better
Debra Tendrich with the nonprofit Eat Better Live Better says currently there isn't enough food available in Palm Beach County to meet the demand.

Debra Tendrich sees the need too.

"Right now, it's a crisis mode for so many families," she said.

Her nonprofit Eat Better Live Better provides nutritious groceries and fresh produce to families, more than 500,000 pounds of food she says just in the pandemic.

"As soon as we let a family go and say, 'Congratulations, you're back on your feet,' we have three, four, five more to replace them," Tendrich said.

Despite these stories of struggle, Palm Beach County is not proposing to spend any of its $290 million from the American Rescue Plan on food, according to the county's fiscal strategy.

Palm Beach County's proposed spending for $290 million from American Rescue Plan
Here is how Palm Beach County plans to spend more than $290 million allocated from the American Rescue Plan.

A county spokesperson turned down WPTV's interview request to discuss the decision but did say in an email that our "ARP (American Rescue Plan) questions are valid and the strategies to be determined will be discussed at a future BCC (Board of County Commissioners) meeting."

"This is a once in a generation opportunity to have these kinds of dollars available to make these kinds of investments for our community," Palm Beach County Commissioner Gregg Weiss told Contact 5.

Documents show the county proposes spending $10 million on hunger relief infrastructure to extend the life of food, which includes refrigerators, equipment, information technology support and hydroponics.

It's something the commissioner says is needed.

"This is going to give us the ability to store and redistribute that food when it's needed to where it's needed," he said. "We have a network here in Palm Beach County to provide food. What we're missing was, we were missing the ability to control where, when the food would be available because we didn't have the storage we needed."

Palm Beach County Commissioner Gregg Weiss speaks on American Rescue Plan dollars
Palm Beach County Commissioner Gregg Weiss speaks about the allocation of funds from the American Rescue Plan.

Weiss' office gave Contact 5 a copy of a hunger relief update which shows a nine percent drop in food insecurity projections this year for Palm Beach County.

He also recently sent a survey to 10,000 residents to help identify community priorities.

"This is an opportunity for us to reach out and ask people for their opinion," Weiss said. "I like a data-driven approach to making decisions."

Contact 5 also asked Weiss if he believes the county should be spending some of the dollars on food.

"At this point in time, I don't. We made the strategic decision we wanted the long-term investment with these dollars," he said.

"I believe infrastructure is extremely important, but I believe that at a minimum if they're going to put $10 million for infrastructure, $10 million should go to fill the fridges too," Tendrich said.

Contact 5 also recently asked U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, about the county's proposed spending.

"I know in our rescue plan we put in billions of dollars for food assistance, so they're probably taking that into account," Frankel said. "I think food security is very, very important. There was a separate allotment in the rescue plan for food assistance that should be distributed."

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel speaks on Palm Beach County's use of the American Rescue Plan money
U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel speaks on Palm Beach County's plan to use funds from the American Rescue Plan.

According to the White House's American Rescue Plan Fact Sheet, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill increased the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by 15 percent through September 2021, increased the Child Tax Credit and sent relief payments.

Other proposed spending by the county includes $75 million for water, sewer, stormwater and other resiliency projects, $60 million for affordable and workforce housing, $46 million to replace county revenues and $35 million for county buildings.

"I'm asking personally for the county to relook and visit this because this would have such a huge impact in people's lives right now if we can secure more food," Tendrich said.

A spokesperson with Palm Beach County tells Contact 5 that further discussions with the board will occur in the near future.

The county has until December 31, 2024, to obligate the dollars and December 31, 2026, to expend the funds.

Palm Beach County previously spent more than $38 million on Emergency Food Distribution from the CARES Act.

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