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More COVID-19 relief available

A second round of federal COVID-19 relief funding is available to communities in Western Tidewater.

The money — $1.3 billion in all — is intended to help local governments respond to issues related to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s being disbursed under the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which is part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

Isle of Wight County will receive an additional $3.23 million. Surry County will receive $560,295; Southampton County will receive $1.53 million and the City of Franklin will receive $695,090. The allotments are based on population.

Although the CARES Act does not require that states distribute funding to local governments with populations of less than 500,000, in a July announcement, Gov. Ralph Northam said he recognized that communities of all sizes are dealing with unanticipated COVID-19-related expenses.

“Virginia was one of the first states to provide such a large share of its federal aid directly to local governments,” said Northam. “We are committed to making sure localities of all sizes get the assistance they need to respond to COVID-19 and keep Virginians safe during these unprecedented times.”

Isle of Wight has spent some of its share of the money on many initiatives to respond to COVID-19, according to County Administrator Randy Keaton. He said the county so far has spent $852,051, with the largest amounts funding Chromebooks for the school system ($463,000) and business interruption grants ($270,825).

Other initiatives the county has funded include building modifications to facilitate social distancing for county employees and the public, teleworking equipment, fire and emergency medical service supplies and equipment and hiring additional cleaning staff and buying cleaning supplies.

In Southampton, “thus far we’ve expended less than $25,000 of the first round of funding, almost all of which has been for PPE, sneeze guards and temporary custodial assistance in public facilities,” County Administrator Mike Johnson said in an email.

Johnson said the Board of Supervisors has appointed a committee to develop a plan for the federal assistance. The process of meeting with county department leaders to gauge their needs is ongoing.

“Among other things, we’re considering a Small Business Assistance Grant Program, emergency assistance to households and individuals impacted by loss of income, expenses to facilitate distance learning, expenses to improve telework capabilities for public employees and courtroom modifications to facilitate physical distancing to safely accommodate jury trials. There may be other needs identified over the course of the next month.”

Johnson said they intend to finalize a plan for the board’s consideration in late August.

“Local governments are responsible for spending the money they receive, and we need them to step up and make sure that these federal dollars are going to the right places,” Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said in the governor’s announcement. “Localities must be able to demonstrate to taxpayers that they are spending these funds wisely.”

Northam previously announced $246 million to support the state’s response to COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, including $205 million in federal CARES Act funds. He also allocated an initial $50 million to launch the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, which is intended to help Virginians who are unable to pay their rent or mortgage due to the pandemic. The state also recently announced a $70 million economic recovery fund to assist small businesses and nonprofit organizations whose normal operations have been affected by the health crisis.