As local residents start receiving their $600 stimulus checks in the second round of pandemic relief money, Polk County prepares for the possibility of more funds while also sharing how it spent its first-round share.

The $900 billion relief bill passed in December 2020 is the second-largest federal stimulus package; the largest was the $2 trillion CARES Act that Congress approved in March 2020.

In addition to providing residents with stimulus money, the second package is also reopening the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help businesses with 300 or fewer employees. Unlike the first round, which ended in August, the new loans are capped at $2 million, down from $10 million. Businesses must show their revenue decreased by at least 25% in either the first, second or third quarter of 2020.

Money in the package will also provide assistance to:

  • Schools, colleges and childcare facilities
  • Medical facilities and vaccines
  • Theaters and other venues providing live programming

The county anticipates receiving more mortgage and rent assistance money as part of the new stimulus package, but it has no idea how much it might get, said Director of Communications Mianne Nelson. “The first wave that we received last year was about $3 million. We should know more in the next 30 days.”

In April 2020, Polk County received its share of the CARES Act money; $126.4 million to help residents and businesses dealing with the effects of COVID-19. County Manager Bill Beasley said county government, with help from other agencies, including the Central Florida Development Council, distributed $88 million to:

  • 17,644 individuals and households
  • 8,720 seniors and/or disabled citizens
  • 5,052 households through the United Way of Central Florida
  • 236 United Way nonprofit agencies
  • 5,874 businesses with 50 or fewer employees

“The remaining $38.4 million helped cover community testing costs and COVID-related expenses for public education institutions, three hospitals, constitutional officials, municipalities, chambers of commerce and the Board of County Commissioners,” he said.

The county received additional money in May, June and September through the Community Development Block Grant program and the Emergency Solutions Grant program. That money, $8.2 million, is being used to fund emergency shelter assistance, mortgage/rental assistance, homeless shelter use, mental health care services, various services to the elderly and related program administrative expenses, he said.

“Collectively, we believe Polk County continues to provide assistance wherever and whenever possible,” Beasley said.

That assistance has helped many, including the county’s chambers of commerce, which were not allowed to participate in federal programs like the PPP, said Katie Worthington Decker, president and CEO of the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce.

“Chambers of commerce were essentially blocked from directly receiving much of the federal assistance, which as an industry we could not understand why and were strongly advocating for,” Worthington Decker said. “The county leadership understood that there were several of Polk County’s chambers of commerce on the front lines each day, 24/7, helping businesses navigate the regulations, restrictions and recovery programs.”

She said she thinks the county understood that and wanted to help support them, giving each chamber $15,000. “We also applied for and received their small business grant of $5,000.”

Chambers helped their members and small businesses navigate the system, encouraging them to apply for loans from the county’s CARES fund if they were experiencing loss of income or had to shut down, Worthington Decker said. “I don’t have a list of our members who applied, but I would say it was the majority of them based on the questions and counseling we offered in regard to the program.”

Although the businesses likely didn’t stay open solely on money received from the county’s program, which offered smaller amounts, those funds “certainly helped in combination with other federal programs, such as PPP and EIDL (economic injury disaster loan,” she said.

The chamber president praised the work the county did to help its residents.

“In speaking to my counterparts across the state, Polk County did one of the best jobs in getting the monies out quickly to both businesses and individuals,” she said. “I believe that their partnerships with our chamber, as well as several other chambers in Polk County, made a difference in getting the information in front of the right people who needed to apply for the funds. On the individual side, their partnership with the United Way and Central Florida Health Care also made a sizable impact on the lives of many.”