It hardly seems possible that we have been dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for just over two years and, yet, at times, I’m sure all of us feel it has been much longer. Thinking back, we remember the mega vaccination clinic at Texas Motor Speedway which became the example for others set up around the country and was called the “Chick Fil A” of vaccine clinics.
We seem to have “turned the corner” on COVID-19 here in Denton County. Dr. Matt Richardson, director of our Denton County Public Health, revealed that on March 21, only 10 individuals were in Denton County hospitals with COVID-19 – the lowest number since early in the pandemic. And none of these individuals were in the ICU. Our positivity rate, a rate that shows the number of positive COVID-19 tests among all such tests administered, is at an all-time low of 2.2 percent.
Since the earliest weeks of the pandemic, along with the state and many other counties, Denton County has received $264,269,625.10 from the U.S. Department of the Treasury to assist in bringing the pandemic under control. So now seems like a good opportunity to provide you an overview of how we have spent those funds to address many COVID-19-related needs across Denton County.
Denton County initially received $147,733,721.60 in funds from the federal government on April 24, 2020, as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These dollars were spent in a number of ways to address everything from food insecurity to assisting our Denton County communities to making sure our businesses impacted by COVID-19 were put into in a more secure position.
Two examples of our many grants included providing 20,000 turkeys, hams and chickens for families in need during the 2020 holidays and Operation Holiday Cheer, which provided thousands of bags for long-term care residents dealing with isolation.
Under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, Denton County received another $23,069,574 on Jan. 19, 2021, for rent, rent arrears, utility and home energy costs, utility and home energy arrears and other housing expenses related directly or indirectly to the pandemic as outlined in federal guidelines. Since that time, we have spent $20,738,460.62. We anticipate this program will be finished by the end of 2022.
Under the American Rescue Plan, we received $7,301,550 on May 14, 2021, which is about 40 percent of the total funds we will receive from the U.S. Treasury for this program. We anticipate rolling the Emergency Rental Assistance 2 program mid-year. Under this program, individuals who have maximum prior assistance will be eligible for three additional months. Other individuals who meet qualifications can also apply. This program differs in that it involves individual case management to assist households in becoming self-sufficient. This could mean assistance with finding a job, receiving job training and other avenues to help them get back on their feet.
Denton County also received $86,164,779.50 on May 19, 2021, about 50 percent of the total funding allotted, to use for other projects under the American Rescue Plan umbrella. While we are continuing to work on plans for these funds, we are currently continuing an innovative Feeding Denton County food box program, which has provided up to 3,000 25-lb. boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables per week to our Denton County families since August 2020. To date, we have provided more than 178,500 boxes to families, offering them healthy alternatives in a time of need. The program was created when it became apparent that access to locally sources fresh fruits and vegetables at our local pantries across the county were limited.
We also recently earmarked $200,000 for protein assistance to enable area food pantries to apply for assistance in purchasing protein, which has become a bit costly in recent months, as I am sure you have noticed.
From the beginning, it has been important to us to use these federal dollars to assist our residents in every way possible, whether a business owner, taxpayer or family in need. We are continuing to work on future plans for the ARP funds and are proud of our county’s non-profit partners with whom are have worked so closely. It really feels good to be able to help our fellow Denton County residents as we all begin to get back to “normal” following these many months of struggles and fears.
Contact Commissioner Edmondson by email at D[email protected] or phone her at 972-434-3960.