The pandemic has made it difficult to do many things, especially pay your bills, and now Collier County is examining how to spend more CARES Act money for small businesses and families.
In June, Collier County received a total of $67 million, $10 million of which was allocated to small businesses. But when you add up everything that’s been paid with payments in process, the county still has $22 million. The proposal for those remaining funds includes helping qualified small businesses and nonprofits pay off non-forgivable economic injury disaster loans, with a maximum of $25,000 per company.
Vann Ellison, CEO of St. Matthew’s House, says the CARES money his organization received provided $15 million in community services.
“When those businesses are hurting, the people that we serve are really injured, so we’re very grateful that those funds are available for small businesses that are going to employ people to make sure that they’re still able to be here, and that there’s jobs and an economic pathway out of poverty for the people we serve,” Ellison said. “Every dollar that has been given has actually multiplied itself several times. So a dollar to the CARES Act has kept people out of the hospital, has provided food, has provided the resources to distribute that food.”
Veteran Joseph Cofield has lived in Naples Park for 25 years and says he’s never asked for a handout.
“For me, this is the first time that I have experienced as an adult where I have more going out than I have going in,” Cofield said.
He and his wife are hurting during the pandemic.
“We are on a fixed income. My wife is retired. I am retired after 21 years in the military and 15 years teaching, and I thought this was my time to relax,” Cofield said. “Then, the pandemic came around so did a lot of bills start coming around too.”
As the bills poured in, Cofield had to choose between paying the mortgage and having a working air conditioner. It’s position he’s never been in before.
“I turned around and I said, ‘Well, there ain’t no help for me,’” Cofield said. “Because I’ve exhausted all of my savings. I have come to the point where I … don’t even know what to do anymore.”
Cofield decided to go to the County to ask it to allocate more of the CARES Act funds it received to people like him.
“I didn’t even expect to get any money,” Cofield said. “I didn’t expect to get anything. I just wanted to feel like someone hears that there’s people like us in the middle that’s getting squeezed, and is there something that you can help us with?”
Commissioners will also look at establishing a $7.5 million individual assistance fund to help families who were hit hard by the pandemic. That assistance would help pay utilities, rent or mortgages.
Sean Callahan is the executive director of corporate business operations at Collier County. He explained the impact the assistance money will have.
“That will allow us to provide assistance to up to a family of four up to about $115,000 a year, thereby kind of expanding the pool and really mirroring the greatest need that we’ve need throughout administering the programs,” Callahan said.
At this time, the allocation of funds is still being determined and applications are not being accepted yet.
Cofield says he will jump at the chance to get help when it becomes available.
“With that, I am hopeful,” Callahan said.