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Douglas County allocates $4 million of COVID relief for rent, food aid

Douglas County allocates $4 million of COVID relief for rent, food aid

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The Douglas County Board decided Tuesday what to do with $10 million of its unspent federal coronavirus relief aid from 2020.

The county will allocate $2 million for rent and mortgage assistance, $2 million for food aid and $6 million for unspecified future mental health services.

The money comes from funds that the board placed in the county’s general fund after they went unspent from CARES Act allocations.

Douglas County will give the rental and mortgage assistance money to the Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) to distribute, mainly through other nonprofit social service agencies. It will fill a gap, said County Board member Mike Boyle, who proposed the resolution. Noting that many people continue to be evicted from their homes despite a federal moratorium, Boyle called this “a rare opportunity for us to get help to people in Douglas County who are really hurting.”

County officials have said many people who needed help with rent weren’t able to meet federal CARES Act documentation or other requirements.

“They aren’t going to have to jump through all the hoops that are put together by the feds,” Boyle said. “We have this money that we can give to MACCH that has experience ... they know who does a good job.”

More rental assistance is coming from the new federal COVID-19 relief bill. Douglas County Finance Director Joe Lorenz said the City of Omaha is expected to receive about $22 million to distribute, and the county will get about $4 million to help Douglas County residents who live outside city limits. Board member Maureen Boyle said that money also will come with restrictions likely to leave out some people who need help.

“More than anything, I think we just have to remember what we’re elected to do,” Maureen Boyle said. “And that’s to really take care of the most fragile among us.”

The resolution passed 7-0.

“This will help a lot,” said Randy McCoy, executive director of MAACH.

He said many families and individuals are struggling financially and in danger of losing their housing, but don’t necessarily meet the requirements for CARES Act funds. One example: people who lost their jobs because their employer went out of business. The employer isn’t around to document the income loss.

Details have yet to be worked out with the county and nonprofits on how exactly the money will be distributed and who will qualify. McCoy said it will probably take about two weeks and said people can look on for details.

The board also unanimously approved a resolution that allocates $2 million to food aid and $6 million for mental health services. The food assistance money will go to the Food Bank for the Heartland. The $6 million will be earmarked for mental health, but the resolution does not specify what programs it will go to. Board Chair Mary Ann Borgeson said it may go to such things as training for 911 operators and dispatchers, or a program to send mental health professionals to crisis calls to 911.

“Anybody else that has any other ideas, we’ll listen,” she said. Tuesday’s resolution “is just getting the ball rolling to say that we have the $6 million that’s being set aside. Let’s come up with a plan on where to best utilize these dollars on mental health.”

Our best Omaha staff photos of January 2021

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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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