PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — A Palm Beach County-run pre-paid debit card program intended for food assistance to those financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic has more than $1 million remaining unspent on the cards issued, WPTV Contact 5 has found.
Palm Beach County's Community Services Department distributed more than 13,000 pre-paid debit cards to qualified residents for grocery and food assistance.
Numbers recently provided by the county show $1.13 million of the over $14 million in CARES Act funding directed to the program remains unspent, an average of $50 per card issued.
Contact 5 spoke with Palm Beach County Administrator Verdinia Baker about the unspent funds last week. Baker told Contact 5 the county was researching why those funds remained unspent, noting "a number of things" could be contributing to the funds still not being spent.
"People could have misplaced them [the cards]," Baker speculated, adding that "were researching that."
Contact 5 also learned over 300 recipients never activated their cards.
After Contact 5 started asking questions about the unspent funds, Palm Beach County sent out a news release encouraging the recipients of those 303 inactivated cards to activate them by March 31.
The news release said any inactivated cards remaining after the end of the month would expire. The press release said the unspent money would "be swept and redirected to fund other identified needs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic."
For some local non-profit organizations, those cards reach additional families as recipients of the cards did not need food assistance.
"Our organization has grown 668%," said Debra Tendrich of Eat Better Live Better. "Which means we had to grow to keep up with the amount of food that's needed to be served to the families."
Eat Better Live Better shifted gears because of the pandemic. The non-profit, which focused on preventing and reverse childhood obesity, started serving families financially impacted by COVID-19 with a grocery assistance program.
Contact 5 caught up with Tendrich as she went out to deliver groceries to a family she described as having "unfavorable circumstances during COVID."
"The situation people are in, a lot of them might have their job back, but it's not the same amount of pay or the same amount of hours," Tendrich explained.
Tendrich told Contact 5 some of the families her organization was assisting received those pre-paid debit cards.
"It did give us the capacity [to] expand our footprint, and assist new families that haven't been served by us yet," Tendrich said of the cards.
James Green, who runs Palm Beach County's Community Services Department that oversees the pre-paid food assistance cards' distribution, said the program provided "really life-changing assistance."
"That card was a tremendous asset to many of the families that were struggling," Green said.
Green told Contact 5 that many "individuals had their back against the wall" due to the pandemic.
"They didn't know where to go or where they would turn, and this program provided a lot of great assistance for them," Green noted.
Green stressed the county was working to make sure all the funds go to assist those impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
"We are communicating with our residents to ensure that they move forward with activating the cards and spending the cards as quickly as possible," Green said.
For more information, contact the Palm Beach County Community Services Department Contact Center at 561-355-4792.