JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When all appointment slots that were made available filled in less than 24 hours last week, the need for Jacksonville’s $1,000 stimulus was clear. And that need was on full display Monday morning as residents lined up around the main library downtown and the Ed Ball Building awaiting their appointments.
Residents, many wearing face masks, appeared to be trying to space out as the line wrapped around the library.
Appointments and distribution of payment cards to eligible Duval County residents began at 9 a.m. Monday and continue through most of May. The distribution will be on payment cards and the money is targeted to help residents pay their mortgage, rent or utilities.
“I have three children and my husband is out of work. I am a dental hygienist and our profession is like the most hazardous and I haven’t worked since March 6. Unemployment, as everybody knows, it’s almost been impossible to get through and everything, so this will help pay my rent, get food for my family, and it’s very important for the mayor to do this for us,” Gloria Kamma said. “I’ll stand out here as long as I need to.”
By the end of the day, 1,544 people had been issued a payment card worth $1,000, bringing the total amount of money distributed to $1.544 million. A total of 1,672 people had an appointment scheduled Monday, meaning 128 people were either denied or did not show up.
The demand to sign up led to some frustration when phone lines and a website first opened Friday morning. More than half of the 40,000 appointments were gone in two hours.
The appointments that began Monday are to verify the applicants meet the requirements, and more slots have opened up as applicants have been denied, according to Stephanie Burch, Mayor Lenny Curry’s deputy chief administrative officer.
Burch said some people were coming from outside Duval County using previous Jacksonville addresses, but when staff attempted to verify the information, they sent them away. The stimulus payments are available to current Duval County residents only.
Some people in line complained that because they rent an apartment, their address was coming up as “already used” in the system. Burch admitted there were some “administrative challenges” and said those people are leaving their information with the city and will be called and offered an appointment as appointments open up.
“To come down here and stand in the hot sun after going through hours of trying to get through to make an appointment only to be turned away without a guaranteed call back for an actual set appointment because we have apartment units, it’s crazy,” said Latoya Wilson.
Burch said the security measures are working to prevent ineligible applicants from receiving the stimulus money and the line is moving fairly quickly. She said more than $500,000 had already been distributed by noon Monday.
“I’ve been waiting on unemployment for over two months. I still haven’t got any stimulus (from the federal government) and I’m disabled, so this is very import because I need my medication and my air-conditioning is broke,” Cathy Edwards said.
Burch asked that applicants bring their appointment confirmation number with them to ensure the process goes smoothly.
The city said the cards can’t be deposited into bank accounts or traded for a money order, and some landlords are not accepting them for rent payment. If that is the case, the city said the recipient should spend the $1,000 on other items to help free up cash for rent.
Under guidelines recommended by Mayor Lenny Curry and unanimously approved by City Council last week, each Jacksonville household that earns under $75,000 and has documentation they’ve taken a 25% income loss due to coronavirus could apply to get the stimulus money.
According to the city’s website, the procedure for the appointments is for residents to enter at the Duval/Main Street entrance of the Downtown Library and for each person to keep a safe distance while in line.
Once inside, they will go to the auditorium, where seats will be marked and again, social distancing will be required. Each person will be called for their appointment and go back out to the hallway to wait in marked spots. Eventually, they will end up at an intake room, where they will be asked to show documentation that they were employed on Feb. 29 and explain the 25% loss in income.
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Applicants will also need to know their Social Security numbers.
No proof of the loss of income will be needed, but the information will be verified. People will leave that area and wait in another area until called into another room where they will be issued a payment card worth $1,000.
Only one person per household is eligible for this payment and it’s on an honor system. But like federal taxes, the city can come back and check to make sure the person was telling the truth. Since its federal money, federal laws will apply.
Given the fact that in just one day 40,000 people signed up for the program and more were turned away, Curry was asked if he plans to expand the program so others who need the cash can get it.
“The immediate goal is to work through the appointments that we have and the available funds that we have as quickly as possible, which is happening today and the days ahead, and we will reassess at that time,” Curry said.