American Rescue Plan Bringing COVID Money To Boca & Delray

The new COVID-19 relief bill, which the Biden administration calls the American Rescue Plan, will bring lots of money to Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Palm Beach County.

Boca Raton will get $11.2 million. Delray Beach will get $13.2 million. Though Boca Raton has more people, Delray Beach is classified as an “entitlement community” under the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Bloc Grant formula and will get slightly more money.

Since President Biden signed the bill only last week, full guidance hasn’t arrived. But the office of U.S. Rep. Deutch, whose district includes Boca Raton and West Boca, provided a fact sheet.

Cities can use the stimulus money “only to respond to or mitigate the COVID-19 emergency or its negative economic impacts; to cover costs incurred as a result of the emergency; to replace revenue lost, delayed, or decreased as a result of the emergency, as determined based on revenue projections as of January 27, 2020; or to address the negative economic impacts of the emergency.”

In addition, local governments could “transfer funds to private nonprofit organizations, public benefit corporations involved in the transportation of passengers or cargo, a special-purpose unit of state or local government, or a multi-state entity involved in the transportation of passengers or cargo.”

Under the first COVID-19 relief bill, which Congress passed roughly a year ago, cities in Florida got no money directly from Washington. Boca Raton and Delray Beach got some from the state—about $550,000 in Boca’s case—for specific purposes. This time, the county will get about $290 million—in addition to what the cities receive. The county got $261 million in the first bill.

Local governments almost certainly will have to document for review by the federal government how they spend the new money. That process would be similar to what happens when cities and counties seek reimbursement from the Federal Management Agency for hurricane costs.

Included in the bill are allocations of $77 million to the Government Accountability Office and $40 million to the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee to “promote oversight, transparency, and accountability of all federal coronavirus relief funds.” There may be a deadline for spending it, but that wasn’t clear as of Monday.

The Boca Raton City Council holds a workshop meeting on Monday. I would expect council members to discuss the money. The same likely will happen when the county commission meets next Tuesday and the Delray Beach City Commission meets next Thursday.

Schools and the American Rescue Plan

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Schools will receive a separate share of money from the American Rescue Plan. How much isn’t certain, but we can make an educated guess.

The relief bill that Congress passed in December included $543 billion nationwide for K-12 schools. The state hasn’t released that money to districts, but Palm Beach County might get as much as $150 million. The figure could be lower if the Legislature keeps some of the money to balance the state budget.

Under the new bill, schools in the U.S. will get $120 billion. If the formula holds, Palm Beach County could get up $300 million or more. Districts would have to spend the money by September 2024. No one knows exact numbers until details arrive from Washington.

Either way, however, school board members also will have to decide how best to spend a lot of money. Some will reimburse the district for obvious costs, such as changes to allow social distancing on campus and in classrooms.

Board Chairman Frank Barbieri said he and his colleagues will hold their own workshop meeting. Barbieri told me Friday that he wants to consider adding an hour to the school day. Some students learning remotely have fallen far behind their classmates.

“We need to focus on elementary schools,” Barbieri said. “If children are behind when they finish there, they’ll never catch up.”

How Delray voted

Speculation had been that minority voters represented the biggest obstacle to Delray Beach Mayor Shelly Petrolia winning a second term. Based on precinct results from last week’s election, that speculation was correct.

Unfortunately for challenger Tracy Caruso, those voters didn’t come out in force.

Let’s compare a couple of precincts.

Precinct 4088 is at West Park Baptist Church in the Lake Ida neighborhood. Petrolia got 63 percent of the vote.

Precinct 7200 is at Pompey Park, in the minority-heavy Northwest neighborhood. Caruso got 71 percent of the vote.

But Petrolia’s total from Precinct 4088 was 428 votes. Caruso’s total from Precinct 7200 was 313 votes.

Caruso beat Petrolia in several other precincts west of Swinton Avenue. Again, though, her raw numbers compared to Petrolia-friendly precincts were lower.

Petrolia got more than 400 votes in three precincts, hitting a high of 492. Caruso didn’t break 400 anywhere. With a margin of 365 votes, raw numbers mattered.

In addition, votes by mail were key. By my unofficial count, 63 percent of ballots citywide arrived before Election Day. Those percentages were higher in areas where Petrolia did best.

Seat 3 City Commissioner Ryan Boylston lost only three of the city’s roughly three dozen precincts. Seat 1 incumbent Adam Frankel got a boost from minority neighborhoods in his defeat of Price Patton. Frankel did so by outperforming Caruso.

At the Village Academy precinct, Caruso got 253 votes. Frankel got 325. At the Pompey Park precinct, Caruso got 313 votes. Frankel got 338 votes compared to just 94 for Patton. Frankel also did better east of Swinton than Caruso, helping him get 55 percent of the overall vote.

Based on his results, Boylston will hear suggestions that he run for mayor in 2024. Petrolia is term-limited.

COVID vaccine response calms down

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County Commissioner Robert Weinroth said his email traffic about the COVID-19 vaccine is “much tamer” than it was in January. “I don’t know whether that means people are frustrated and have given up or are happy.”

Weinroth, whose district includes Boca Raton and Delray Beach, said the county “finally is balancing out a little” when it comes to access for poorer residents. Last week, Mayor Mack Bernard—who represents many minority residents along the coast—complained about the lack of a site for them. One went up two days later.

These days, Weinroth said, he hears new complaints about the lack of charging stations for electric vehicles. He probably will be hearing soon from constituents about how they want that new federal money spent.

DeSantis pushes to ban COVID emergency orders

Having prevented cities and counties from enforcing local mask mandates, Gov. DeSantis now wants the Legislature to ban all city and COVID-19 emergency orders, which local officials regularly update.

Last week, the governor also wiped out all fines for businesses that had violated pandemic restrictions. Orange County alone had fined 28 businesses $300. Delray Beach has one fine outstanding. Boca has none.

DeSantis claimed that social distancing, masks and capacity restrictions are “not effective.” In fact, public health experts say only such policies will prevent another surge of COVID-19 cases. Florida’s numbers are down since November but still above last summer.

Delray Assistant Manager Update

I wrote last week that Delray Beach still has not filled its open assistant city manager position. A spokeswoman said the new hire won’t come until the commission hires a permanent city manager.