MIAMI – The Miami-Dade County League of Cities Board of Directors and Mayor’s Coalition held a news conference Thursday morning at Miami City Hall to discuss the county’s withholding of federal funds provided through the CARES Act.
More than 20 representatives of the 34 municipalities were present for the news conference, where mayors from numerous cities called Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s actions shameful and wrong.
The gathering comes after City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez announced earlier this week that he was speaking with other mayors about the possibility of taking legal action against Miami-Dade County for withholding coronavirus relief funds that he says were meant for city residents.
During the #MDCLC news conference this morning this issue 👇of state oversight re: #CARESAct distribution surfaced. @Ahochkammer spoke about the struggles some state lawmakers have had re: securing a special legislative session. https://t.co/56rIyy7v3a https://t.co/xLLTWQu8WA— Christina Vazquez (@CBoomerVazquez) July 30, 2020
“This is an insult to our residents,” Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli said, adding that the “best kind of government is the government closest to the people.”
Mayors said they felt blind-sided Monday when the county administration announced a funding share to cities of $30 million, a drop from $135 million in a previously proposed plan.
On Thursday, Suarez said the mayors were still considering taking legal action, but are imploring the county to do the right thing first.
Suarez said the county participated in “bad faith negotiations” and ultimately took away CARES Act funding that was meant for Miami residents based on the city’s population. Miami-Dade County was recipient of CARES Act money because it met federal guidelines, which is a population threshold of more than 500,000.
“The current county proposal on a reimbursement basis would get our citizens potentially as little as $8 million, which is 10 percent of what we should get based on population,” Suarez said on Tuesday.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez held a news conference hours after Suarez’s statements were made and said that cities may submit invoices for any COVID-19-related activities to receive reimbursements and said the CARES Act money is already going to programs for all residents throughout the county, whether they live in a specific city or an unincorporated area.
“All residents will get their fair share,” Gimenez said.
Suarez said the city attempted to negotiate with the county to allow 75 percent of the funds to go to the city, while the county kept 20 percent.
“We were negotiating in good faith with Miami-Dade County,” Suarez said. “Not only did they not accept that. They negotiated the whole time in bad faith and never rejected any of our offers, had offered $135 million a week before, according to their own briefings of their commission, and then all of a sudden without any notice passed spending yesterday that would have reduced the amount of money that cities get dramatically to only $30 million for reimbursements.”
Suarez used Atlanta as an example of what cities should be receiving based on population. He said the city of Miami currently has 468,000 residents, while Atlanta has 506,000. He said Atlanta received $88 million directly from the government.
Suarez said Thursday that he has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see when the county received the federal funds and how much of the money has been spent so far.
There is a concern that smaller cities could find a reimbursement system financially difficult. They may not have the financial resources to front the expenses, creating a cash-flow problem.
I also spoke today with @JoseJavierJJR about #CARESACT #Funding who says there is a “huge gap in oversight” at the state level. He would like to see a #special #legislativesession called. #SoundOn #Florida #COVID19 https://t.co/J6PUJkPzEg pic.twitter.com/vTaW9tT4vw— Christina Vazquez (@CBoomerVazquez) July 28, 2020
But Gimenez maintained that no city in the county would receive “blank checks” and said testing sites, the senior meal plan, small business program, hotel isolation program, housing, city transit programs and contact tracing are just some examples the money has been used for that affect all 2.8 million residents.
Gimenz said it is the county’s responsibility to make sure that all of the relief money goes to COVID-19-related activities.
“Miami-Dade County is responsible for this money,” he said. “Miami-Dade County has to ensure that every cent is spent on a COVID-19-eligible activity, and if money is not spent on a COVID-19-eligible activity, then that money has to be reimbursed to the federal government, and who has to reimburse that money? Miami-Dade County.”
The mayor said cities need to submit receipts. Some may be reimbursed by CARES Act funds and some with FEMA money. He did concede Thursday that there is an issue with smaller cities who don’t have enough cash reserves to survive a reimbursement system, and who may have a liquidity issue. Gimenez said he is willing to work with them on that.
Gimenez said the federal funds must be spent by Dec. 30 and if any city has additional programs they want to implement, they need to speak with county officials so they can determine whether the county has the budget to approve those programs.
“This money is meant to go to the people of Miami-Dade County,” he said. “It’s not meant to go to the governments of Miami-Dade County.”
There are also FEMA dollars that can be leveraged to cover expenses like sanitation or investments in PPE.
Even though MDCLC passed a resolution back July 24 that puts a class action lawsuit on the table, on Thursday they implored the county mayor to get back to the negotiating table.
Gimenez has agreed, saying “let’s talk” during the virtual conference on Thursday.
There is a whole other layer to the conversation, which is state oversight. Who exactly is, at the state level, supposed to be looking into who gets what in CARES Act funding?
Who was in attendance today?
- Councilmember Anna Hochkammer, Pinecrest
- Vice Mayor Chris Davis, Opa-Locka
- Mayor Otis Wallace, Florida City
- Mayor JC Bermudez, Doral
- Mayor Carlos Hernandez, Hialeah
- Mayor Philippe Bien-Aime, North Miami
- Councilwoman Claudia Mariaca, Doral
- Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli, Coral Gables
- Mayor Anthony DeFilippo, North Miami Beach
- Mayor Francis Suarez, Miami
- Vice Mayor Nelson Rodriguez, Miami Lakes
- Mayor Michael Davey, Key Biscayne
- Mayor Enid Weisman, Aventura
- Mayor Tim Meerbott, Cutler Bay
- Mayor Brent Latham, North Bay Village
- Mayor Sally Philips, South Miami
- Mayor Virginia O’Halpin, Biscayne Park