Dane County Calls on Federal Government to Bolster CARES Funding for Local COVID-19 Response Efforts as Pandemic Continues

July 22, 2020
Ariana Vruwink, 608-267-8823
County Executive

Community Need for COVID-19 Testing, Eviction Prevention, Emergency Food Assistance, and Small Business Funding Remains High and Federal Support is Running Low

Today, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi joined community partners at the Alliant Energy Center to call on the federal government to bolster CARES funding for local COVID-19 response efforts. Dane County and its partners have successfully utilized CARES funding to stabilize emergency housing and food needs across the community and prevent small businesses from closing. However, given the current trajectory of COVID-19, additional federal support is needed to meet basic needs as the pandemic continues to impact the physical and economic health of the Dane County community.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic carries on, there will be a continued need for support from the federal government to help our community with testing, eviction prevention, emergency food assistance, and small business funding,” said County Executive Joe Parisi. “This pandemic is far from over, and we need all systems of support working together to address our community’s needs during this unprecedented time.”

County Executive Parisi is calling on the federal government to keep COVID-19 testing going at the Alliant Energy Center. The contract is set to expire August 7. Over 70,000 people have been tested for COVID-19 at the Alliant Energy Center’s community testing site. Through community partnerships, additional neighborhood testing sites have been established with CARES funds to ensure communities of color and those in poverty have access to testing. Hispanic or Latinx people who tested positive made up 17% of cases and 10% of hospitalizations, while accounting for just 6% of the population. African Americans made up 13% of cases and 23% of hospitalizations, and account for just 6% of the population. The continuation of these community testing efforts is vital in limiting the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring all Dane County residents have access to coronavirus testing.

In mid-June, Dane County partnered with the Tenant Resource Center to launch a more than $10 million emergency package to prevent evictions. In this first month of the program, the Tenant Resource Center received over 10,000 calls, thousands of emails, and over 5,000 applications. As of late last week, over 5,500 applications had been received and $4,677,665 in rental assistance was authorized. 84.5% of the funding went to non-white households (42% Black, 27% Latinx/Hispanic). Close to $10 million in requests have been received so far, with over 88% of applicants reporting job/income loss. The Tenant Resource Center had over 1,100 requests for housing counseling, mediation, and assistance with applications. Approximately 40% are in the eviction process.

“The work of the Tenant Resource Center is to advocate for housing justice by informing tenants and landlords of their rights and responsibilities under Wisconsin state law in addition to supporting individuals throughout the eviction process,” said Robin Sereno, Executive Director of the Tenant Resource Center. “We take this work seriously and to heart. To date, we have been able to support over 7,000 community members with rental assistance; thereby stabilizing their housing as a result of the CARES program partnership. We are committed to continuing this important work as long as it is needed because we know that housing is a human right.”

At this time, Dane County and the Tenant Resource Center’s eviction prevention program will need to stop taking requests for future rental assistance. The program will shift its focus onto the current applications within the system and those that will likely be submitted in the coming week for those with active eviction cases that have been filed. The Tenant Resource Center will not be shutting the program’s application process down at this time, but will be prioritizing households that are at the highest risk of homelessness (specifically those with an eviction filing or a stipulation that is in default).

Near the beginning of May, County Executive Parisi announced a total of $10.8 million would be used to fund the Dane County Small Business Pandemic Support Grant Program. Through Dane County’s partnership with Dane Buy Local, seven rounds of funding totaling $8.4 million has already been awarded, helping nearly 3,000 Dane County businesses. Dane Buy Local projects a total of 11 rounds will be needed to complete the grant process. The average grant amount has been just over $4,000 per business. 27% of the funds have gone to Dane County minority owned businesses, and 55% have gone to women owned businesses. Based on Dane Buy Local’s projections, there may be enough funds to cover every qualifying business that applied with a grant of some form.

“CARES funding, provided to local businesses through a Dane County grant program, was essential for small business survival during the first few months of the pandemic. Without these funds, many more businesses would have closed. But as the pandemic drags on through the summer, fall, and winter, businesses are once again in need of cash support,” said Colin Murray, Executive Director of Dane Buy Local. “During normal times, local small businesses not only make Dane County an enviable place to live and visit, they also provide good jobs and economic strength. They can and will do so again for many years to come, but they’re in need of further assistance so they may survive through and beyond the upcoming months of the pandemic. Now’s the time for the federal government to act by providing additional financial support at the local level. If these businesses are helped to remain open and keep people employed, they’ll drive the return to local and national economic vitality.”

Several businesses have told Dane Buy Local they would be out of business if it were not for the grant program. Grant applications closed June 15, but Dane Buy Local continues to receive questions about whether businesses can still apply and if more money could be made available as COVID-19 expenses mount.

Late last month, County Executive Parisi signed a resolution that doubled funding for Dane County and Second Harvest’s COVID-19 emergency food assistance program to $6 million, which will increase deliveries to Dane County food pantries through the end of October and help even more Dane County residents and local food producers make ends meet during this challenging time. Second Harvest ordered $901,000 worth of food in June, with $581,000 of those funds being ordered through Dane County vendors. $156,000 was used to purchase produce grown in Dane County, with the bulk of it coming from Garden-to-Be and Elderberry Farms. Garden-to-Be aggregates food from Dane County Hmong growers, and it is expected more food will be bought from more Hmong gardens in July.

178,000 pounds of food was distributed to 57 Dane County partner agencies in June. The three largest distribution points include the Badger Prairie Needs Network (received over 8,000 pounds), the River Food Pantry (received over 29,000 pounds), and Middleton Outreach Ministry Food Pantry (received over 11,000 pounds). Second Harvest will continue to use the Alliant Energy Center as a packing facility until at least the end of the year, following a new contract extension. The organization is projecting a 61% increase in local food insecurity by the end of August, the latest sign that the impact of COVID-19 is far from over.