Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said the mortgage, rent and utility relief program that will give $1,000 payment cards to 40,000 households scheduled all available appointments within 24 hours of opening the applications Friday.
The appointments for the money began Monday at the Ed Ball Building and Main Library in Jacksonville. If people are rejected and more openings for the relief become available, Curry said the city will reach out to people individually.
The mayor stressed how important it is to show up with a confirmation number when coming to the in-person appointment.
“Please do not show up on site without a confirmation number. You'll be turned away,” Curry said.
Other required documents include forms to verify an address and employment on February 29 (such as a pay stub or letter from an employer), and a valid ID.
Curry said more than 500 applicants have already received money from the program.
The process hasn’t been entirely seamless. Brian Hepler applied for the relief on the city’s website on Friday, the day the application opened, and was even able to pick out an appointment time, but he never received a confirmation number. He figured he would get a confirmation number in an email or by text.
With his appointment coming up at noon on Tuesday, Hepler still hadn’t received a confirmation. So he called the city’s number, where he was told that because he lives in an apartment where multiple residents have the same address, the system didn’t register his apartment unit number.
“I've lived here seven or eight years,” Hepler said. “I'm used to putting in my unit number. I believe that I put it in... [the system] did not stop me. The system didn’t say, ‘There's a problem, we don't recognize the address.’”
Hepler has now been put on a waiting list, so if appointments open up, city personnel will reach out to him.
“Since the money is a finite amount of money, I'm just out of luck because I got into the system to apply, but because I missed the number 4 or something on my address, or the system had some limitations, I'm out of luck,” he said.
Hepler is a leather and vinyl repairman. Because most of his work is done in people’s homes and businesses, coronavirus has mostly halted his work.
“I'm not worried about tomorrow or the next day but a month from now. The money was more of a safety net because I don't know when I am going back to work,” Hepler said.
Hepler said he’s more concerned about other people in even tougher financial spots who live in apartments and are dealing with the same difficulty.
Jacksonville Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Burch said several people like Hepler showed up to appointments and were turned away because they weren't scheduled on the city’s end, or because they were disqualified on site for not meeting the aid criteria.
“There have been people who have been coming in from outside of Duval County, who maybe entered in an address that maybe they lived at a long time ago in order to get into the system, but when we're checking the documentation on site, they are not able to to qualify for the criteria.”
Burch also said there have been a few administrative challenges surrounding people who have said their address has already been used because they live in an apartment complex.
Asked if he would consider expanding the relief program considering how quickly it filled up, Curry said the main concern is getting the $40 million out to those who are currently scheduled and reassessing the need once that pot of money runs out.
As people begin returning to work for Phase One of the statewide reopening plan, Curry said his work from home order is still in effect.
“If you can work from home, work from home,” Curry said. “Ask employers and employees to continue working together to find available work at home solutions.”
Curry said there is no timeline for when that order will be lifted. He also emphasized for those returning to a workplace, they need to maintain social distancing and continue frequent washing and sanitizing. “Wear a mask,” Curry said.
Duval County beaches have reopened from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Social distancing measures are still in effect, and activities including laying out a towel or bringing a cooler are still not allowed.
Other counties, including Nassau and Flagler, have lifted similar restrictions. Curry said he is in discussion with mayors of the beaches on lifting more restrictions.
“Cooperation from the public is crucial and it will allow for the continual gradual easing of restrictions,” Curry said.
The restrictions on hotels and lodging to only take reservations for people deemed essential personnel also ended Monday, meaning those establishments can now take any customers. Vacation rentals are still not allowed to rent at this time.
For businesses that haven’t opened up yet, including gyms and personal care services like barbershops and hair salons, Curry said his team is collaborating with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order to get those businesses “open as quickly as possible and as safely as possible.”
As new COVID-19 testing sites are opening across Duval County, Curry said the positivity rate has dipped to 3.9%.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.