After receiving $41 million in federal aid from the CARES Act, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors decided Tuesday it will spend about $15 million to help ailing small businesses and residents impacted by the crisis.
On Wednesday, the school board voted unanimously to ask for the school division's share of the money, which, according to the county’s revenue sharing agreement would amount to about $23.5 million – or 57.23% of the $41 million.
The school board is asking the supervisors to share the coronavirus relief money with the school division to help pay for a variety of coronavirus-related expenses.
The school board agreed it is not yet possible to account for every expense but noted the money will be needed to buy additional computers for distance learning; provide teachers with professional development on virtual learning; and to equip schools with hand-sanitizer, disinfecting and cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment.
John Wallingford, the school division’s associate superintendent for finance and risk management, said the schools can make the request based on guidance from the state that “explicitly refers to the use of this money going to schools.”
All school board members agreed with the idea, saying the school division still needs to buy more computers beyond the 15,500 laptops that were purchased with about $6.4 million in school division funds last month. The school board asked the supervisors to help pay for that expense, but the supervisors never acted on it.
The school division is still working on its plan to reopen schools in the fall, and board members said the schools could need everything from extra desks to extra buses to extra help for school nurses as schools navigate the school year amid an ongoing epidemic.
Gainesville District Representative Jen Wall said it “makes sense” to ask the supervisors to honor the revenue sharing agreement with the federal aid.
“If our schools are going to succeed, if we are going to push forward and not lose a year of education, then we really do have some unmet needs that I think would be really wise for the county to share in that,” Wall said.
Contacted Thursday, Board of Supervisors Chair Ann Wheeler declined to comment on the request because the supervisors had not yet received the school board’s letter, Wheeler’s chief of staff Briana Sewell said in an email.
Small businesses, homeless assistance
For their part, supervisors unanimously approved on May 19 using about $5 million of the money on a small business relief fund, and about $10 million on housing aid and homelessness assistance for county residents.
The CARES Act, passed by Congress on March 27, provided $3.3 billion in aid to Virginia’s state government and local governments. In addition to the housing and small business relief, the county will also use the money to pay for millions it has already spent on PPE and cleaning supplies.
Approximately $3.6 million has been spent by the County for COVID-19 Response through May 5, according to David Sinclair, the county's Office of Management & Budget director. That includes $1.2 million on PPE, $600,000 on cleaning supplies and $465,000 on the county’s homeless crisis response plan.
The board directed an additional $2 million to be spent on programs to aid homeless people in the county who are at a high risk for COVID-19, specifically those who are elderly, disabled or have underlying health conditions.
“We want to get them out of any congregate settings where they could be exposed to the virus,” said Deputy County Executive Elijah Johnson.
Currently, the county is housing around 58 high-risk homeless people at a local hotel. About $2 million in funding from the CARES Act will go towards sustaining that program in the long term.
Because testing is increasing in the county, “we are going to have more people testing positive,” Johnson said. “We want to be in a position when that happens that we have a pool of funding where if we need to hotel somebody, isolate somebody who’s homeless, we’re going to be able to do that.”
An additional $8 million will go toward rental assistance, mortgage relief or utility payment relief for area residents who have been impacted by the crisis. Qualifying families will likely be able to apply for assistance by July 1, Johnson said.
“The reason the federal government is doing this is they want to prevent homelessness,” Johnson said.
The payments are not made directly to the applicant but to the landlord, utility or bank to which the person owes money. In order to qualify for assistance, residents in need must have an income that is at or below 80% of the area’s median income. For a family of four in Prince William County, that’s $79,000.
Undocumented immigrants living in the county are not eligible for housing assistance grants under the federal CARES Act guidelines.
Supervisor Margaret Angela Franklin, D-Woodbridge, represents a district with a high population of foreign-born residents – about 13,000 in total according to U.S. Census data. Overall, there an estimated 37,000 undocumented individuals living in Prince William County, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Franklin said the county needs to find a way to close the gaps in housing assistance for undocumented people living in the county.
“I’m hoping we can move forward with some fund for that gap,” Franklin said. “We want to make sure there are no gaps in coverage for those that need it.”
Small business relief
A small business relief fund has been created by the county’s Department of Economic Development that will provide a total of $5 million in grants to 625 small businesses. There will be 500 grants of $7,500 each for businesses with three to 20 employees, and 125 grants of $10,000 for businesses with 21 to 50 employees. In order to qualify, small businesses must have less than $1 million in gross receipts.
Economic Development Director Christina Winn said that between 90% and 95% of all businesses in Prince William County fit the criteria. The relief fund will “provide immediate relief for our small business community hardest hit by COVID-19,” Winn said.
The program is targeted towards retail, restaurants and hotels, but all small businesses that qualify are eligible for relief. Each grant application will be assigned a number, and the grants will be awarded via a computer-generated lottery. But restaurants, retailers and hotels will have their number entered twice to increase the likelihood that they will receive a grant.
To receive a grant, businesses must have a physical location in the county; have a current county business license; have been in business for two years; and have a revenue loss of 25% or more as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
Businesses may start applying for assistance between June 1 and June 4.
Winn said she expects the county to receive far more than 625 applications. In Loudoun County, a similar grant program with $1.4 million available garnered about 1,400 applications, of which 1,200 qualified for grant money. Of those, only 130 businesses received funds, Winn said.
“We think there’s going to be a greater demand for the grants than we have in terms of supply,” Winn said.