The Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission unanimously approved over $639,000 in funding from both the federal government and the county to three local organizations that have helped residents through the pandemic in a special called session Tuesday night.
Athens Land Trust, The Ark Athens and Casa de Amistad will each receive $75,000 in federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which they are required to spend by Dec. 30. They will also each receive about $138,000 from the county’s general fund that they will have until Feb. 3 to spend.
The three organizations already received $230,000 each in CARES Act funding after the mayor and commission approved the funding distribution in August. They had until Dec. 30 to spend it, but all three are on track to exhaust that funding by Dec. 11.
Commissioners were initially only supposed to vote on the CARES Act funding Tuesday, but District 2 Commissioner Mariah Parker, District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson and District 6 Commissioner Jesse Houle worked together to come up with the plan to support the organizations with county funding.
Houle said that while federal funding expires at the end of December, the people in need of aid will continue struggling financially. They suggested the commission also look into other organizations at risk of running out of their allotted CARES Act funding to help them as well.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention passed a moratorium on evictions in September, protecting renters from being kicked out of their homes for failing to pay rent. The moratorium is set to expire after Dec. 31, meaning these renters could face homelessness if the pandemic’s effects have left them unable to pay. Athens Land Trust, The Ark and Casa de Amistad all provide financial assistance to families who are at risk of homelessness.
“This month of January is kind of paramount in us ensuring that people stay in their homes during a severe health crisis, during a pandemic,” Denson said.
Houle said winter is a particularly dangerous time for people to lose their housing. CDC Director Robert Redfield has said COVID-19 deaths may rise rapidly throughout the winter.
“Beyond the pandemic, it’s also a time when you can freeze to death,” Houle said.
The three organizations have served a combined total of 451 households since September, and the need for financial assistance is expected to increase throughout December, according to the ordinance providing the CARES Act funding.
Parker noted the organizations have performed well with the funding they have already received. She said The Ark served double its target number of families with the prior CARES Act funding.
At a work session also on Tuesday night, county manager Blaine Williams gave the mayor and commission an update on the county’s COVID-19 response.
Between Nov. 7 and Nov. 21, the Athens-Clarke County Police Department conducted 145 weekend bar occupancy checks and found no bars failing to comply with the state’s limit on bar occupancy.
To enforce the county’s mask mandate, ACCPD distributed 1,477 masks to people who did not have one between Nov. 6 and Nov. 21.The department issued 1,150 warnings to individuals who were not complying, but did not issue any citations.
Athenians have felt the economic effects of COVID-19 as well, and the county recently completed interviews for participants in its community corps program. Participants are expected to begin work in January. The program will allow community members to work as full-time employees of the county to build professional skills.
Through the Athens Eats Together program, which provides emergency food relief in ACC during COVID-19, the county has served more than 90,000 meals to residents facing food insecurity.