Millions of Americans are anxiously waiting for the denouement of the second stimulus check saga. The roller coaster journey since the passage of the CARES Act has included Democrats adding a second payment in the HEROES Act and Republicans pivoting from denouncing additional payments to include them in the Senate HEALS Act proposal. Currently, there is tremendous ambiguity with officials, including White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Vice President Mike Pence, publicly supporting second stimulus checks, but Senate Republicans omitting them from their “skinny” bill, which was unveiled, but failed to advance in the Senate.
In the absence of action at the federal level, some state and local governments have stepped into the void to provide emergency relief payments and grants to their constituents. In addition to diverting funds towards education, technology and broadband, and workforce development, many allotted or are allotting funds to help residents directly too. Unlike stimulus checks, which were unrestricted in usage, local grants are typically more limited in scope; however, receiving a grant for these items, such as housing, utilities, and food, could still provide much-needed financial relief for millions of Americans.
Here are a few examples of current and past programs.
Direct Payments Most Similar To Stimulus Checks
Oregon: $500 Stimulus Checks (Expired)
In mid-July, the Oregon Legislature had earmarked $35 million from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) allotment to make one-time payments to residents. The program was designed to provide financial relief to those who were experiencing hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic or hadn’t received the unemployment benefits they were owed. “With such a huge jump in unemployment, some people are still waiting for their benefits,” Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney said. “We know $500 isn’t going to solve all of these problems, but if we can help a family buy groceries for the month, pay for child care, or cover an unexpected repair, it’s worth it.”
The state partnered with private sector banks and credit unions to implement a one-time $500 emergency relief payment to qualifying Oregonians. The $500 is an outright grant, not a loan and eligibility required residents to be 18 years or older, have earned $4,000 per month or less prior to their income loss due to Covid-10, have not received all unemployment payments that they were owed, and attest to experiencing financial hardship. To reduce fraud, residents were required to go in person to participating banks and credit unions. Unlike other grants, there was no restriction on usage to receive the Oregon stimulus check, but there were very specific criteria in order to be eligible to receive a check.
Thousands waited in long lines when the program went live in late August. The $35 million in funds were exhausted on the third day of distribution with 70,000 available payments disbursed. Officials at the Northwest Credit Union Association said that the response “proved there is an overwhelming need for financial help for consumers impacted by COVID-19. Thousands of people visited eight participating credit unions Wednesday to apply for one-time, $500 payments set aside the by the state to help consumers who’ve missed out on other relief programs.” “While we know these limited funds aren’t enough and won’t allow us to help everyone, we felt it was important to try something,” said House Speaker Tina Kotek . “After months of hearing from increasingly desperate Oregonians who were doing everything right and still not getting the unemployment they were owed, we hope this effort offers a streamlined way for some financial relief. The state is stepping up, and I hope Congress will act soon to provide more support that is desperately needed.”
North Carolina: $335 Stimulus Checks To Households With Children 17 And Younger (Ongoing)
The North Carolina Senate and House both passed the Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0 last week. One provision calls for $335 stimulus checks to be disbursed to all North Carolina households with parents of children 17 and younger to help offset remote learning costs. The checks are technically “extra credit grants,” and would be automatically given to North Carolina parents who filed taxes. Those who did not file would be given an opportunity to apply for the grant. The grant is a flat amount and does not vary based on the number of children per household.
North Carolina is planning to use $440 million from it’s $903 million CARES Act allotment to fund the stimulus checks, which would be issued by December 15 (Congress requires that states use their CRF budget by the end of 2020). “I know $335 isn’t gonna pay off a mortgage, but it’ll put a dent in the cost of electronic devices or help pay for a tutor,” said Senate leader Phil Berger during a press conference. “I really am not worried about how parents will spend that $335. All I know is they need it. They deserve it.” Similar to the Oregon checks, while there were defined eligibility criteria, it doesn’t appear that there is any mechanism to limit how parents who receive the funds are allowed to use them.
Duval County, Florida: $1,000 Stimulus Payments (Expired)
In late April, Jacksonville Mayor, Lenny Curry, announced a plan to offer $1,000 payments to 40,000 families, on a first-come, first-serve basis, “to assist our citizens who are suddenly unemployed or significantly underemployed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As reported by The Jacksonville Daily Record, the city’s Director of Public Affairs Nikki Kimbleton said that the federal grant money is guaranteed and only needs the Council’s vote to allocate the dollars.
Thousands of Duval County residents in Florida blitzed a City of Jacksonville website to secure an appointment and a potential $1,000 county-issued stimulus check. The payments were part of a plan unanimously approved by the Jacksonville City Council to funnel additional stimulus funds to 40,000 residents.
Montgomery County, Texas: $500 Stimulus Checks (Recently Halted)
There have been some inconsistent outcomes with respect to local stimulus checks. In early June, Montgomery County Commissioners unanimously approved a plan to provide $500 stimulus checks to county residents. The county was planning to use $65 million of its $105 million CARES Act allotment for the stimulus checks. The plan, which was proposed by Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack has been suspended for the time being.
Noack and other county officials had requested the Treasury Department to provide written approval of the county’s use of CARES Act funding to avoid a clawback provision if money is used outside the scope of its intent. They did not hear back and ended up halting the planned stimulus checks. “That’s not the way it works,” Tenley Carp, a governmental contracts attorney told Community Impact Newspaper. “There’s absolutely no process—there’s no concept even—of Montgomery County requesting approval from the Department of Treasury.”
Regardless of the fingerpointing, the end result for Montgomery County residents is the same for now: no $500 stimulus check.
Grants To Residents For Specific Uses (Housing, Utilities, Etc.)
The CARES Act passed by Congress requires that the payments from the Coronavirus Relief Fund only be used to cover expenses that are necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID–19), that were not accounted for in state budgets approved in March, and were incurred during March 1, 2020 and December 1, 2020. To avoid compliance issues, many states and counties have taken a narrower path to providing grants to citizens by limiting what the funds could be used for or how they are disbursed.
Seminole County, Florida: Grants Up To $5,000 (Suspended For Now)
Residents of Seminole County, Florida are able to apply for grants of up to $5,000 if their income has been impacted by Covid-19. The county plans to disburse $7 million in Seminole CARES Individual Assistance grants and started accepting applications on August 26. According to an update, due to a significant response, the portal has been suspended as of September 4th.
Seminole County is also using funding it received from the CARES Act. Unlike Oregon and North Carolina, the Seminole grants are not a second stimulus check and come with additional constraints. The money can be used to cover up to three months of rent or mortgage assistance, up to three months of utility assistance for gas, electric, and water bills, as well as up to $100 in gift cards for food and basic needs each. “Grant funds will be paid directly to the applicant’s landlord or mortgage company and eligible utilities,” the county portal said. “If awarded assistance for food or other basic needs, applicants will be contacted by Seminole County Community Services to pick-up gift cards.”
Montgomery County, Ohio: Mortgage Assistance Up To $10,000, Utility and Rent Assistance (Ongoing)
The county has three programs to help its residents with housing as well as paying bills. “We know times are tough, and COVID-19 has made it difficult for some of our residents to stay up-to-date on their mortgage or rent while paying utility bills. Through the CARES Act funding we’ve received from the U.S. Treasury, we’re providing assistance through three programs: one to help homeowners with mortgage costs, one to help renters cover rental costs, and one to help people behind on paying utilities,” the county said. The county has offered up to $10,000 for qualifying applicants and will apply the amount directly to those applicant’s mortgage. “The amount of assistance will be based on individual circumstances including the status of the mortgage,” noted the county’s statement.
Nicollet County, Minnesota: Grants Up To $4,000 (Ongoing)
Nicollet County has a crisis funding program to provide financial assistance of up to $4,000 per household. The You may be eligible to receive financial assistance for CARES Act Crisis Funding through Nicollet County. Eligible applicants can use the grants for housing, appliance repair or replacement, utilities, transportation, and funeral expenses. “Expenses for items other than basic needs. . . may be eligible for payment. Applications will be reviewed on a case by case basis, must be deemed essential and directly related to COVID-19,” states the policy.
Escambia County, Florida: Grants Between $1,000 – $2,000 Per Household (Applications Opening September 18)
The county is using a quarter of its CARES Act funding to help families who had a loss or reduction in work hours due to Covid-19 with expenses. To be eligible, families must have annual incomes of less than $75,000. Those who are eligible, will receive grants of $1,000 – $2,000. The county is opening applications between September 18 and September 22.
Fort Worth, Texas: Grants Of $7,200 Per Household (Ongoing)
Fort Worth is using part of its allocation to help with housing, utilities, food, and medicine. The maximum amount a household could receive is $7,200 and is made up of several components. Rent or mortgage grants top out at $3,600, utilities help at $2,400, and food and medicine at $300 per household member, with a maximum of $1,200 in payments.
Gadsen County, Florida: Grants Up To $6,000 Per Household (Ongoing)
Gadsen County is making grants available to residents. Households with five people or less can receive up to $4,000 and households with six or more individuals can receive up to $6,000. The grant funds can be used to cover past due rent, past due mortgage payments, or past due utility payments.
Alachua County, Florida: Grants Up To $5,000; Two Rounds Of $2,500 Payments (Ongoing)
Alachua County is providing grants of up to $5,000 based on the economic impact residents can demonstrate related to the Covid-19 pandemic. The county defines this as “the total of any lost income or increase in expenses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic less any other COVID-19 assistance received.” Money can be used for housing, utilities, car payment, day care, and other Covid-19 related items.
Oakland County, Michigan: Grants Up To $15,000 For Housing and Utility Help (Phase 2 will open Oct 1 to Nov 30)
Oakland County is allocating north of $3 million from its CARES Act allotment to help qualifying residents with up to three months of past due housing and utility payments that were a result of hardship caused by Covid-19. The one-time grants have a maximum of $15,000 per household and will be made on behalf of qualified households by Oakland County. The program is aimed at assisting low-income households.
With Congress requiring that states and local governments use their Coronavirus Relief Fund allotments by the end of 2020, other opportunities for local emergency relief payments may crop up. It behooves readers who need assistance to check in with their local and state officials to see if there are programs available now or in the future. For example, Oakland County, Michigan is distributing money in two phases. While phase one ended August 31, phase two will be between Oct 1 and Nov 30, providing residents who missed the first round another opportunity to apply.
It behooves Americans to look at at their city and county websites or get in touch with elected officials for information on potential programs. In the meantime, Americans should also continue pressuring Congress for action at the federal level. Hopefully Congress manages to break its current logjam and pass the next coronavirus stimulus package. If it does, let’s keep our fingers crossed that it contains a second stimulus check as well as additional aid.