Monday, January 01, 2007

Federal officials have designated $5.8 million in additional funding to help Florida counties with homelessness.

While Charlotte County wasn't named among the counties to receive a share of the money, the county could find itself eligible to receive some of the $440,000 unallocated balance.

In early December, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, announced that federal funds totaling $5,816,077 were awarded to Florida to help prevent homelessness and to feed and shelter the state's "hungry and homeless."

According to a press release, Congress made the money available to the National Board of the Emergency Food and Shelter Program. EFS grant funds can be used to supplement food, shelter, rent, mortgage and utility assistance programs for people with non-disaster-related emergencies.

The National Board of Charities -- which includes American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., The Salvation Army, United Jewish Communities and United Way of America -- decided how the money was to be allocated.

The board allocated money to 40 of Florida's 67 counties.

Among the specific allocations, Lee County received $146,639, DeSoto County received $11,141 and Sarasota County received $99,884. The three largest allocations were $936,055 to Miami-Dade County, $660,294 to Broward County and $467,287 to Palm Beach County.

"It is worth pointing out that FEMA did not decide which Florida counties would receive portions of that $5.8 million dollars," FEMA spokesman Josh Wilson said. "The funding decisions (were) based on a formula involving criteria such as current populations, unemployment and poverty levels."

However, a $440,000 balance was placed under the purview of the state "set aside committee," Wilson said.

Scott Morris, director of FEMA's Florida Long Term Recovery Office, sent a letter to the state committee, encouraging it to consider applications from counties, including Charlotte County, that may still have residents struggling to recover from hurricanes.

Bob Hebert, the county's recovery director, recently returned from Tallahassee and said the Florida Department of Community Affairs officials he spoke with didn't know about the $440,000.

Grant funds for homeless come out of the state's Office of Homeless and the state's Web site does offer grants up to $100,000 for emergency shelters. Since the Charlotte County Homeless Coalition is the county's lead agency, Hebert said Friday, he would suspect that the coalition is aware of the funds.

However, from his meeting with DCA officials, Hebert said he learned that a new program is being approved that could bring $2.2 million to the county and could help low- to moderate-income residents and business owners to harden their homes and businesses from wind and flood damage from future storms.

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