As everyone grappled with the many challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, it immediately became evident to us how important it was to help our businesses, non-profits and individuals impacted from this unforeseen phenomenon.
When Denton County received $147 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds from the $150 billion set aside for counties and cities with populations in excess of 500,000 in the federal government’s CARES Relief Act, helping residents recover became our top priority.
To help offset the economic impact suffered by many, the Denton County Commissioners Court created the Denton County CARES (Coalition of Agencies to Restore Essential Services) program designed to designate funds to address countywide concerns.
The Court allotted funds in several categories including business grants, housing assistance and food as well as funds to help cover COVID-19-related costs incurred by non-profits and our more than 40 cities and towns.
We also reached out to the United Way of Denton County and other local non-profit organizations to find out how we could help assist individuals where they need it most.
Our communities will soon receive funds based on a $55 per capita formula so they can cover COVID-19-related expenses. We also are working with them to develop additional business grants for businesses within their communities as well as continue to assist their non-profits to provide food and housing assistance.
Our general outline for how the Denton County CARES funds will be used is as follows:
- $45M to municipalities for COVID-19-related expenses
- $24M allocated for local business grants (including the initial $2.2M in the Denton County OPEN business grant program rolled out in mid-May)
- $20M for the housing assistance program
- $10M for food programs
- $6M estimated county expenditures to date as related to COVID-19
- $2M to support local nonprofits dealing with COVID-19-related demands
- $40M for the county’s ongoing expenses as well as personal protection equipment and public health costs to provide countywide testing and COVID-19 contact tracing.
Let me assure you that none of these federal dollars will cover any revenue shortfalls for governmental entities – whether at the municipal or county levels. Commissioners Court employed experienced outside counsel to review federal guidelines and help us design specific processes to ensure these funds are spent exactly as intended.
In Denton County, our teams have worked long days, weekends and holidays to keep you informed about everything related to COVID-19. From the first case through now, we have provided daily updates on positive cases, recoveries and, tragically, the deaths directly related to this insidious virus. In fact, we provided more information than many of our fellow counties. We have worked throughout this period to ensure online services were available where possible and reopened as soon as health officials and the state deemed it safe to do so.
Our Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Services Office and Facilities Department worked collaboratively to ensure we have the proper Personal Protection Equipment available for employees and the public. They installed special stations in high-traffic areas, plastic shields in face-to-face transaction areas and signage to guide the public into and throughout our buildings.
Denton County Public Health increased the number of testing locations throughout Denton County. As of May 28, state records show that more than 20,250 tests were conducted in Denton County. Currently, our Denton County Public Health teams are providing at least two testing centers each week – one at the University of North Texas every Tuesday with a second one at different locations throughout the county. The state has also set up several testing centers in the county. Additional testing centers will be announced for the coming weeks and months.
Our Emergency Services Office also supplied personal protection equipment (PPE) to our first responders as well as hand sanitizer from Mary Kay’s Research and Development Facility and BENDT Distilling Co., both in Lewisville, to our long-term care facilities. Soon, we will be working with the Denton County Transportation Authority to provide our non-profit organizations with an estimated 200,000 masks to help them as they continue to assist our residents.
As our non-profits have seen tremendous growth in demand, some experiencing as much as a 400 percent increase from families who have never before requested assistance, we have worked to help the organizations meet these needs by funding grant requests submitted through the North Texas Cares program. To date, we have provided $1.06 million through the United Way of Denton County to help our area 501c3 organizations. We anticipate continuing this process as more grant requests come in.
In mid-May, we launched Denton County OPEN (Operational Plan for Economic Normalization) to offer Denton County businesses an opportunity to submit applications for up to $10,000 in grants. An estimated 1,337 businesses submitted grant applications from May 13 through May 20. Our call center fielded 496 calls and we received 255 emails seeking answers to questions about the grant application process. This month, we will let businesses know if they have qualified for grants and begin sending checks to assist them in the recovery process. We will also soon announce additional grant opportunities for our businesses countywide.
In the next few weeks, we will expand a countywide housing assistance program to provide more relief for residents facing eviction. As of May 27, an estimated $372,064 assisted 374 residents with rent, mortgage and utility payments or to keep them housed in extended stay hotels. We anticipate the need for housing relief will continue to grow in the coming months.
In addition, we are currently working on plans to expand food supplies to our local non-profits as well as fill in across areas where food deserts exist so that we can make sure no one in Denton County goes hungry. We are working with our local school districts, around 45 pantries as well as local food distribution companies and even our area farmers to bolster our local food supply as needs increase. In the coming weeks, we hope to create more opportunities for residents to find the nutritional food they need to feed their families – whether by bolstering existing pantries with supplies, planning drive-thru opportunities to pick up food boxes or providing hot meals to neighborhoods in need through regional food trucks.
Through Denton County CARES, we are also paying tribute to the memory of Gene Gumfory, a longtime Denton County business owner and philanthropist who gave generously of his time and money to support many programs over the years. He established the Shiloh Field gardens, which continue his desire to provide tens of thousands of pounds of produce to feed the hungry among us. I want to offer a heartfelt thanks to his wife, Lynn, for her support in allowing us to honor Gene in this manner. We believe these efforts continue his lifelong mission to help people across the county in their journey to self-sufficiency.
As you can see, we are committed to being there for you in this time of great need. We are certain that, together, we can begin to recover from this pandemic and move toward restoring our vibrant, fast-growing economy. Because, together, we are Denton County Strong.
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If you have any questions or comments, please let me hear from you. My email is [email protected], and my office number is 940-349-2820. For more information, register for my newsletter at www.Dentoncounty.gov/countyjudgenewslettersignup.