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Forum Focuses On How Federal Pandemic Relief Dollars Were Spent In Hillsborough County

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Closeup of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act document. Hillsborough County leaders spoke about how their communities are spending CARES Act funds during a virtual forum Friday.

The Tampa Tiger Bay Club hosted a virtual forum where local government leaders discussed how they’ve spent federal pandemic relief dollars.

Fifty-thousand laptops for students, touchless doors for city-owned buildings, and personal protective equipment for employees. That’s just some of what city and county governments around Hillsborough County spent their federal pandemic relief funds on.

Friday’s Tampa Tiger Bay Club forum gave an inside look at the decisions made by local leaders to prioritize CARES act spending.

Guest speakers included Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, Hillsborough County School Superintendent Addison Davis, Plant City Mayor Rick Lott, Temple Terrace Mayor Andy Ross, and Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise.

Hillsborough County received $256.8 million because it is among the 12 counties in Florida that has a population that exceeds 500,000 people.

“The money came directly from the Treasury and was to be spent for expenditures necessary for COVID-19 and it had to be spent by December 2020, and we received the money in April,” said Wise.

The funds were disbursed to a number of countywide programs. About $32.2 million went towards housing and utility assistance, $6.14 million went towards food relief, and $643,000 went towards water utility financial assistance.

The School District of Hillsborough County received $54 million -- money that helped officials execute plans to return to somewhat of a normal status.

“The biggest thing we had to do is address the educational technology divide,” said Supt. Addison Davis. “Coming in with 220,000 students, we only had 28,000 laptops. So we went out and purchased 50,000 laptops to have that connectivity.”

“We also partnered with the Hillsborough Education Foundation in order to purchase thousands of WiFi hotspots to make certain our children can connect with the learning process,” he added.

The city of Tampa received $30 million from the $256 million that was allotted to Hillsborough County.

Mayor Jane Castor explained that the money went towards setting up testing facilities and buying personal protective equipment, as well as meet work from home costs and other costs associated with ensuring communication with the public.

The city also aided in Hillsborough’s housing relief plan. “We provided $12 million of that housing relief funding to the county to be able to distribute into the city as well,” said the mayor.

Castor believes that the federal government could have acted more quickly in response to the pandemic, but is proud of the response otherwise.

“This hit everybody and you do your best to respond,” she said. “There's a lot of negativity out there, but I think, overall, the way that our community handled this was done very well.”

Plant City received $6 million in funds, which they focused towards improving technology.

“We went throughout our facilities and we were able to, in a very short period of time, make them safe for our citizens and make them safer for our employees,” said Mayor Rick Lott.

Lott said touchless technology was installed at a number of those facilities. The money was also used to fund a community food bank.

The city of Temple Terrace received a little short of $3 million from the CARES Act funding. Mayor Andy Ross said most of the funds went into building modifications and safety technology.

Cooperation was also a theme discussed during the forum.

“We are very fortunate to live in Hillsborough County, where we have very positive collaborative working relationships,” said Castor. “As we navigated this unknown pandemic, we really did it as a group as opposed to everyone individually acting. And so the beneficiary of that, I believe, are the residents in our community.”

To watch the full forum, visit Tiger Bay Tampa’s Facebook page or tigerbayclub.com.

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