DeKalb allocates $1M for rent, utility and food assistance

DeKalb County Fire Rescue recruits help distribute food at the giveaway.  (Jenni Girtman for Atlanta Journal Constitution)

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DeKalb County Fire Rescue recruits help distribute food at the giveaway. (Jenni Girtman for Atlanta Journal Constitution)

DeKalb County will give at least $1 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to local organizations that can provide residents with rent, utility and food assistance.

The county commission approved the allocation proposed by Commissioner Jeff Rader on Tuesday. Specifics still need to be worked out, but the plan is for the county’s community development department to solicit grant applications from community-based organizations with experience providing the type of assistance desired.

The goal is to get the funds distributed as quickly as possible. And Rader and other commissioners suggested that $1 million should just be a starting point.

“We want to go where we can do the most good, serve the most people and those that are most in need,” Rader said.

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In April, DeKalb County has received $125 million in aid from the federal relief package known as the CARES Act. CEO Michael Thurmond has outlined an initial proposal for spending the money, which includes funding new mobile testing units, covering hazard pay for front-line county workers and starting a small business loan program.

In recent weeks, the county has handed out masks and sanitizer to thousands of residents and also hosted food distribution events that had overwhelming turnout. At least two of the aforementioned mobile testing units have been rolled out as well.

Details of a new partnership with the Atlanta Community Food Bank are also expected to be revealed in coming days. And Thurmond said he hopes to present a “comprehensive strategy” for the $10 million small business aid program next week.

Still, the CEO and Rader have frequently clashed over coronavirus-related spending. While Thurmond has suggested that the existing state of emergency gives him a wide berth to spend as he sees fit and ask for ratification afterward, Rader has balked at the dearth of big-dollar items that have thus far been presented to the commission for approval.

“We need to move faster, and that's what this is intended to do,” Rader said Tuesday.

Thurmond said he didn’t have any issue with Rader’s proposal because it fell in line with priorities already outlined by his administration.

But the conversation wasn’t exactly frictionless. Rader’s resolution was introduced Tuesday as a walk-on item not previously listed on the agenda.

“We would love to sit down and have a discussion about how to move forward, in line with other things that we are doing,” Thurmond said. “But that discussion hasn't been had yet.”