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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

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Lake Wales and Polk County CARES, we are all in this together.

Lake Wales and Polk County CARES, we are all in this together.

by Kevin Kieft, President/CEO Lake Wales Chamber of Commerce

Saying we are living through uncertain times might be an understatement, but it is no less true. For employers and employees alike, their financial future remains most uncertain as safer, at-home measures have halted many small businesses and kept people from returning to work.

Due to the pandemic, three out of four small businesses are seeking federal aid, according to a survey from the Census Bureau reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Fortunately, the Polk County’s Board of County Commissioners recently approved a plan to utilize federal funding to assist small businesses and individual households throughout the county, especially here in Lake Wales.

Polk County has received $126 million through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and will utilize a plan called the “Polk County Cares.” This plan will use the federal funding to provide economic relief to small businesses, as well as rent and mortgage relief for businesses and households.

As the Polk County website explains: “The Board allocated $40 million for small business economic development needs, $30 million for health and human service needs, $30 million for community healthcare related to the coronavirus, and $26 million for county and local government’s costs and services dealing with COVID-19.”

Some of this funding will be provided to the City of Lake Wales to help finance local infrastructure. Of the $30 million to be utilized for health and human service needs, some of that funding will be distributed through organizations like the Lake Wales Care Center to help provide rent, mortgage, and utility assistance to local households making less than $75,000. In essence, these organizations will serve as a “clearinghouse” for some of this funding to help local families and residents struggling the most.

Another $40 million will be utilized for economic development for small businesses who were otherwise ineligible either for the Paycheck Protection Plan or the Economic Injury Disaster Loan distributed through the Florida Business Association. This funding will be available for small businesses with 25 or fewer employees and will provide to up to $1,000 minimum or $5,000 maximum.

The direct grants for this funding will be on a first come, first served basis, and will be available starting on May 19. Any local businesses interested in applying for this grant are advised to follow the Chamber of Commerce and the County Commission websites for more information.

While many local businesses and households were eligible for federal and state funding, unfortunately, 501c6 organizations such as the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Council are not eligible. As our representatives in Washington currently deliberate the latest COVID-19 relief bill, we sincerely hope that they will keep these non-profit organizations in mind, as such organizations as our own provide many needed services to our local communities.

Thankfully, we have advocates like our own honorable U.S. Representative Darren Soto (FL-17), who is currently advocating for 501 c6 non-profit organizations to be included within future relief bills.

Perhaps the greatest aid in helping our economy during these times has been the compliance of local businesses with stay-at-home orders. By taking these measures seriously, you all have ensured the health and safety of our residents. You have helped to “flatten the curve”, allowing our country to hopefully make an expedient recovery.

Because of your efforts, the number of cases are not rising exponentially locally. I continue to remain optimistic, and hopefully, we can keep doing this on a measured approach. I applaud the businesses for doing their part and helping us all weather this pandemic together. 

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