Monroe County has $1.43 million to help residents pay rent and mortgage payments missed due to coronavirus hardships.

Monroe County received $13 million in CARES Act funds. Part of it — $1.43 million — is to help Keys residents with rent and mortgage payments missed due to pandemic-caused unemployment.

Right now, county staff is racing the clock to get it all spent — properly. The funds must be spent by the end of the year, and local officials need time to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s before the checks can be cut.

The good news is that eligibility is easy to meet — tenants or mortgage holders must fall under the median income range, or a single person making $84,600 or less and be able to demonstrate a hardship caused by the pandemic. Furthermore, anyone who qualifies can get his or her rent or mortgage paid in full for 10 months (March through December).

According to Social Services Director Sheryl Graham, 312 Keys households have applied and 143 households are in various stages of pending approval. So far, 100 households have received assistance in Monroe County, according to Graham. 

“We are extremely hopeful we will be able to serve all who are eligible,” said Graham.

The delay is an outgrowth of the two-part application process. Mortgage holders or renters must provide at least seven different types of documentation ranging from income to leases, and then landlords or banks must agree to, and apply, to become “vendors” on record with the county. Checks are cut directly to the banks or landlords, in full, for the 10 months. Social Services staff is handling the applications and the Clerk of the Courts staff is auditing the applications and issuing the funds.

“The documentation required … it’s voluminous,” said Lisa Tennyson, the county’s legislative affairs director.

Monroe County was one of the last areas to receive the CARES Act funding for rent and mortgage expenses, and applications weren’t issued until August. It took another month to work out the details with the Clerk’s office on what type of documentation was required and checks began being issued in late September.

“We are doing absolutely everything we can to get this money spent before the deadline of Dec. 30, 2020,” said Graham. “One file can take weeks or even months to verify and finalize, so we have scores of files pending eligibility, waiting on documentation from applicants, banks, landlords, employers, former employers, etc.

Graham said the county has asked whether the deadline to spend the money will be extended and the answer is “extremely unlikely.”

“The U.S. Treasury is who would have to extend the deadline and so far we have been advised that there is no indication an extension will occur. We are moving at the most feverish speed we can.”

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Spending other CARES Act funds is going a little more smoothly. So far, the county has issued $2 million in business assistance in Monroe County, and recently issued a call for non-profits to apply for $1 million in assistance.

The county has also issued a first round of $350,000 to a handful of Keys food pantries.

“And that amount can be replenished as it is drawn down,” said Lisa Tennyson, the county’s legislative liaison.

Both Florida Keys Electric Cooperative and Keys Energy Services have worked with the county to identify residential and commercial clients who owe money due to hardships caused by the pandemic, lockdown and quarantine. About  $400,000 of Cares Act funds have gone to erase those debts.

“The utilities assess their own customers and we get a list. We cut them one check, and they retire the accounts in arrears,” Tennyson said. “Their customers are incredibly happy, and so are we.”

Local municipalities are also applying to the state for portions of the CARES Act funding to recoup costs associated with the pandemic.

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