Lee County leaders discuss how to spend $135 million in federal funds

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Lee County admin building. (Credit: WINK News)
Credit: WINK News

Lee County commissioners held an emergency meeting Tuesday to decide how to allocate $135 million from the federal government.

One option on the table that will have a large impact on the community is helping out with rent and mortgages.

“One of the goals is people need help right now,” said Chairman Brian Hamman.

He said the county will start by creating framework to deliver $50 million to families who need help.

“They’ll probably need help three months from now, to tell you the truth, but they need help right now.”

That help starts with getting businesses back open so they can bring back their employees.

“In March, when businesses in airports and hotels and restaurants started to shut down, we saw 68 [ercent of our business drop to zero.”

Jennifer Whyte owns Fort Myers Brewing Company. She knows that without help, her business will not return to normal anytime soon.

“We have employees that have indicated that they can come back to work but they can’t work right now because they’re teaching their kids during the day and then they don’t have child care, after-school care or anything like that right now,” she said.

Because this is federal money, Hamman did stress there are restrictions, and it’s given out only for COVID-19 related issues.

Hamman said we could see some other uses of the money go to emergency medical response expenses, payroll for public health and public safety employees, and economic support such as small business programs.

Hamman said he believes this money could last them through the end of the year, and they don’t have to decide what to with all of it today.

Commissioners also want to allocate money for local food banks that have seen a dramatic increase in need since the pandemic started.

The Harry Chapin Food Bank said they’ve seen a 40 percent increase. Typically, they would have food donated from grocery stores, but that isn’t happening right now.

Instead, they’re spending an additional $1 million a month to get food out into the community, on top of adding trucks and drivers.

Commissioners will discuss funds for food banks at their meeting next week.

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