Miami-Dade mayors blast Gimenez for the allocation of CARES funds
Miami-Dade County mayors called on Carlos Gimenez to increase the county’s proposed allocation of $30 million in CARES Act funds directly to cities. The county gets to distribute $474 million in COVID-19 relief money.
Mayors banded together Thursday to send a scathing message to MiamiDade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, saying he misled them about the slice of federal CARES Act money their cities would receive and calling on him to rethink the issue.
At a press conference outside Miami City Hall, the mayors — many of whom, like Gimenez, are Republicans — said county staff led city leaders to believe they would receive around $135 million of the county’s $474 million share of
Carlos Gimenez federal COVID-19 relief dollars, but later cut off communication before decreasing the cities’ proposed amount to just $30 million on Monday.
The county commission has already voted to allocate much of the $474 million to a slew of charities, businesses and residents countywide, and continued to do so this week even as Gimenez’s staff
warned it may cut into cities’ shares But city officials said Thursday that it’s not too late for the county commission to reallocate those funds so cities get what they deserve.
“It was an insult,” Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, the president of the Miami-Dade County League of Cities, said of the county’s $30 million proposal for cities. “What we ask today is for MiamiDade County to right that wrong.”
Ed Marquez, the county’s deputy mayor overseeing finance, said the $135 million allocation for cities that he presented to county commissioners in early July shouldn’t have been seen as a plan.
“It was just a listing of where we were at the moment,” he said.
Marquez couldn’t say why the figure dropped so sharply, beyond the county shifting dollars to other needs. “This is a process. This is sausage-making,” he said.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said he submitted a public records request to the county Wednesday, asking when the county
received its CARES Act money and how much of it has already been spent. City leaders have accused Miami-Dade of rushing to allocate the money to popular programs (including $10 million each for nonprofits and arts groups, and $30 million for restaurant financial assistance) and now claim there’s little money left for cities.
About $140 million of the $474 million remains uncommitted, Marquez said Thursday, and much of it hasn’t been spent. While Miami-Dade has already accepted about 18,000 applications for the $10 million rental-relief fund, the administration hasn’t launched the $20 million relief fund for veterans that county commissioners approved last week.
Marquez said the administration had no particular justification for reserving $20 million for veterans, saying the number came from commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz. “We feel a debt to our veterans,” Marquez said. “The policymakers felt that was a good, appropriate [amount]. I won’t argue with that.”
Last week, even before the county’s proposed $135 million allocation to cities had been slashed to $30 million, the League of
Cities voted to pursue a possible class action lawsuit if the allocation was less than around $200 million. That amount represents three-quarters of what the municipalities say they should receive based on population; about 57% of Miami-Dade residents live in cities, while the rest live in unincorporated areas.
Suarez, who seemed eager for cities to sue the county on Monday, took a more measured tone Thursday: “We are going to explore legal action and may file a lawsuit if it’s meritorious,” he said.
CITIES SAY REIMBURSEMENT ISN’T ENOUGH
Passed in March, the CARES Act authorized about $2 trillion in stimulus and relief payments across the country, including about $150 billion to state and local governments.
The legislation limited direct aid to governments representing at least 500,000 people. Because Miami-Dade’s largest city, Miami, has a population below 480,000, the county was the only direct recipient of CARES money.
Federal rules require that the money be spent in 2020, and Gimenez told commissioners Monday
that he doesn’t want to delay getting the dollars to residents by allowing 34 cities to decide how a larger chunk of it should be spent.
But city leaders say they’re better equipped than the county to provide resources like meal delivery, rent relief and support for small businesses directly to their constituents.
“The best government is the government that’s closest to the people,” said Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli.
Deputy County Mayor Jennifer Moon invited cities this week to submit breakdowns of how much money they’ve spent on COVID-19 response, and said the county would begin reimbursing them for a portion of the expenses. The majority of those expenses will be reimbursed by FEMA.
City officials have started to submit that documentation to FEMA and the county, but they say reimbursement alone isn’t enough. The reduction in CARES money, said Hardemon, “directly took from the mouths of the women, children, families and businesses within all of our municipalities.”
The result has been a new level of bad blood between county and municipal
leaders, and a seemingly united front among many of the local mayors. Among those in attendance at Thursday’s press conference were the mayors of Miami, Hialeah, Doral, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Coral Gables, Aventura, Key Biscayne and North Bay Village.
“I’m never aware of a time where this has happened before, with cities standing so united,” Suarez said. “The disrespect, the lack of honesty … has led us to a point where we have no faith and confidence in the [county] government.”
MAYORS SLING MUD AT GIMENEZ
Several mayors took Thursday’s press conference as a chance to rail against Gimenez, including the Republican mayors of Miami, Doral, Hialeah and Coral Gables.
Valdés-Fauli, the mayor of Coral Gables since 2017 and previously from 1993 to 2001, called the county’s actions “disrespectful” and “a stupidity,” going so far as to say that “maybe we should amend the Florida Constitution to abolish the county.”
Suarez picked up the talking point, saying the county’s “embarrassing” treatment of local leaders has led them to “broach the subject” of whether Miami-Dade county government should exist.
Valdés-Fauli also took a personal dig at Gimenez, stepping to the microphone to quip: “Maybe we should hire the mayor’s son to be our lobbyist to distribute the money.”
C.J. Gimenez, Carlos Gimenez’s son and a lawyer, has worked as a registered lobbyist in Miami and been hired for big projects that include David Beckham’s soccer stadium push and a Formula One racing event.
“Instead of making things ugly and personal, Valdés-Fauli should focus on providing his residents and businesses the information that they need to seek the federal funding they deserve. Not his government, THE PEOPLE,” C.J. Gimenez told the Miami Herald in a statement.
Carlos Gimenez, the Miami-Dade mayor, is running in the Aug. 18 Republican primary to represent Florida’s 26th Congressional District.