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Palm Beach County spent bulk of 2020 CARES Act funds 2 months before spending deadline, records show

County received $261 million in emergency funds
milk, orange juice and tomatoes in a box,
Posted at 7:28 AM, Mar 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-29 09:32:22-04

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County spent the bulk of the $261 million of CARES Act funding just weeks before the year-end deadline, according to a review of spending records.

Contact 5 reviewed CARES Act expenditures provided by the Palm Beach County clerk for dollars the county received last spring.

Records reviewed by Contact 5 show Palm Beach County spent more money in two months, November and December, on utility and rental assistance, than was spent between June and October.

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Spending of rental assistance from the CARES Act by Palm Beach County in 2020.

Those records also show the county spent more money in December alone on emergency food distribution than disbursed between May and October.

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Spending of emergency food distribution funds from the CARES Act by Palm Beach County in 2020.

Sharon Bebout, along with volunteers at Cason United Methodist Church in Delray Beach, with help from Living Hungry, have distributed nearly 500,000 boxes of fresh food to more than 27,000 families since the pandemic began.

"You can't sit on money when it's available when you got people that are hurting so badly," Bebout told Contact 5 in response to the findings.

'You can't sit on money when it's available when you got people that are hurting so badly,' Sharon Bebout tells Michael Buczyner
"You can't sit on money when it's available when you got people that are hurting so badly," Sharon Bebout tells Contact 5 investigator Michael Buczyner.

Contact 5 first spoke with Bebout in December as the clock was ticking for Palm Beach County to spend $56 million in remaining CARES Act funds. Contact 5 caught up with her recently at another weekly food distribution.

"I feel like when they drive through, pick up a box of food, that somehow or some way, it made it better for that day," Bebout said.

She noted the demand for food assistance hasn't stopped.

Contact 5 spoke with Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker, who defended how and when the county spent the $261 million in CARES Act funds.

"I think the county made extra effort to push these dollars out in a responsible manner, as soon as we possibly could," Baker told Contact 5.

Verdinia Baker speaks with WPTV, March 26, 2021
Palm Beach County Adminstrator Verdenia Baker speaks with Contact 5 investigator Michael Buczyner.

Bebout believes the CARES Act funds "should have been distributed evenly."

"I think we can look back and say that we had a hard deadline of Dec. 31 to spend those CARES Act funds and we weren't going to let that expire," Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner said.

Baker pointed to the county loading additional funds onto pre-paid debit cards for food assistance in December as one example of how the county was able to beat the year-end deadline.

Contact 5 also spoke with Kerner about the timeline of spending.

"My belief is that, over time, the need had increased from November, December, from the earlier portion of the pandemic," Kerner said.

Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner speaks to WPTV, March 26, 2021
Palm Beach County Mayor Dave Kerner speaks with Contact 5 investigator Michael Buczyner.

Baker also noted a lack of direction from the federal government slowed spending early on.

"Rules were nonexistent when the money first came out," Baker told Contact 5.

She added the county "started seeing rules sometime in July or August."

"I think we've done a pretty good job because we were somewhat conservative in our spending," Baker said.

Bebout, meanwhile, continues to focus on helping our neighbors who need it most, one year into the COVID-19 outbreak.

"It's sad when we have to turn somebody away that we don't have a box for," Bebout said.

Bebout and volunteers will continue handing out boxes of hope for as long as they can.

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