SARASOTA, Fla – Congressman Vern Buchanan today urged congressional leaders to lower the eligibility threshold for local governments to receive coronavirus assistance in any future legislation passed by Congress.

Under the CARES Act passed by Congress last month, a county or city must have at least 500,000 people to be eligible for financial assistance related to coronavirus. Manatee County has 403,000 people and the 4th highest number of deaths in Florida. Sarasota County has 433,000 people. Both are currently ineligible for coronavirus relief funds under the CARES Act passed last month by Congress.

“This arbitrary criteria of 500,000 residents disadvantages many local governments, including two of the three counties I represent," Buchanan said. "Both Sarasota and Manatee counties have been hit hard by coronavirus and are dealing with the health and economic impact caused by the virus. They deserve assistance just as much as any city or county that has 500,000 people.”

Hillsborough County, part of which is represented by Buchanan, has a population of 1.4 million so it qualifies for the aid.  

Congress is currently considering another COVID-19 relief bill, and Buchanan said the change in eligibility should be included in that legislation. 

“This should be a bipartisan issue because expanding the eligibility will help many people living in places just like Sarasota and Manatee counties and who are also struggling with the COVID-19 outbreak,” Buchanan said. “I will be contacting the House and Senate leadership of both parties urging that this change be made a part of the next coronavirus aid package to move through the Congress.”

Read the full text of the letter below:

April 27, 2020

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader McConnell:

The next coronavirus relief package addressed by Congress must expand eligibility to include local governments that are struggling to confront the impact of the pandemic.

Under the CARES Act passed last month, states and cities and counties with more than 500,000 people are eligible for assistance through the Coronavirus Relief Fund. 

This arbitrary threshold disadvantages many local governments, including two of the three counties I represent. Both Manatee and Sarasota counties are straining to cope with growing COVID-19 caseloads, rising costs, and significant revenue losses. They deserve assistance just as much as any city or county that has 500,000 people.

Manatee County has 403,000 residents, 512 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 42 deaths. It has the 4th highest number of deaths in the entire state.  Manatee Memorial Hospital has been severely impacted by the pandemic and has furloughed employees. In fact, the hospital has more COVID-19 cases than Tampa General Hospital, which has received relief funds. This is yet another powerful rationale for enlarging the eligibility standards.

Sarasota County has 433,000 residents, 321 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 32 deaths to date. Sarasota Memorial Hospital also has been seriously harmed by the outbreak, announcing a loss of $16 million in March, furloughs and salary reductions. Additional losses are expected in April and May.

In the next coronavirus assistance package, Congress should lower the minimum population requirement to 400,000 residents.  This revision is fully consistent with the original intent behind the Coronavirus Relief Fund and would enable more local governments to receive aid.

According to one economic forecast, the combined Sarasota-Manatee economy is facing the possibility of a massive $2.3 billion economic slump over the next 90 days because of the coronavirus.  StratoDem Analytics, an economic data firm located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, estimates Sarasota County’s GDP will decline by about 25 percent in the 2nd quarter of 2020.  For Manatee County, it is estimating a 28 percent GDP decline.  Measured on a per household basis in each county, that’s an $6,300 economic loss in Sarasota County and an $5,700 loss in Manatee County from April through June.  

Manatee and Sarasota counties miss meeting the current population requirement by small margins.  Congress needs to expand the eligibility criteria to help state and local governments like Manatee and Sarasota counties get through this public health and economic crisis.   

I look forward to working with the leaders in both parties to make sure that relief funds are helping as many local governments as possible. Adopting this modest change to the Coronavirus Relief Fund would enable us to achieve this essential mission.