One of the main issues revealed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is the inequity of access to broadband. In Stafford, that issue manifested itself in education and teleworking. When Stafford County was granted $13,338,365 in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act funding, the Board decided to use a significant proportion of the funding, which must be used by December, to prioritize access to broadband and the ability of the schools to both educate students virtually and in the classroom. Additionally, funding will be used to assist community partners and businesses, both of which have been heavily affected by COVID.
“Our Board has been very supportive of finding alternative methods of delivering broadband to residents even before the COVID-19 epidemic,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Meg Bohmke, Falmouth District. “Receiving the CARES Act funding will help us expand some of the projects we were already working on like adding WiFi to new spots around the County and help to connect those without internet and with financial hardships, particularly students.”
The first step towards connecting students is to make sure every student has the proper educational tools. The Board funded $1,105,000 to Stafford County Public Schools to purchase enough additional Chrome Books for every student to have one. Additionally, the School requested, and the Board provided $1,260,000 for more expenditures to provide supplies and necessary safety improvements for the health crisis, and to provide transportation costs for meals. A total of $2,615,000 has been approved by the Board to support students in our community from Stafford County Government’s allocation of CARES Act funding, over and above the $1.55 million CARES Act funding received directly by the Schools. In addition, the Center for Innovative Technology has directly funded a pilot project to connect 30 homes in the Hartwood area with school-aged children for 12 months.
Again, lessons learned from operating during the pandemic helped inform the requests and assessment of their importance. Some of the highlights of the needs are featured below.
A staff working group provided a recommendation on projects using a ranking matrix. All incurred costs were assumed to have the highest priority and to be funded. The group also considered the following categories: Public Safety and Distance Learning being the highest priority, safety improvements to reduce exposure, teleworking improvements, business and citizen assistance, physical security measures, communication enhancements and administrative support to administer the funds.
Stafford’s Human Services Department already has an established system for evaluating, processing and awarding funding requests from partner agencies. Many of these organizations were lifelines for members of the community during the pandemic. Human Services was able to quickly establish a CARES Act funding request system that will distribute funding quickly to help offset the extra demand on these organizations.
Public Safety and those eligible for hazardous duty pay will be paid an additional $4/hour for putting themselves at risk working in person while the building was closed to the public. To help with ongoing broadband expansion projects, the Board allocated CARES Act funding to the Stafford Economic Development Authority (EDA). A sum totaling $250,000 of the $2,400,000 million funding will provide grants to broadband providers advancing fixed wireless in the Aquia, Hartwood and Aquia districts. The Board allocated funding to the EDA to reimburse $457,000 for payroll grants already provided to Stafford County businesses in the spring. The rest of the EDA funding will go towards grants for businesses across Stafford.
For more information related to the community partner grants, please visit www.staffordcountyva.gov/coronavirus. Whereas, surrounding businesses can visit www.gostaffordva.com for more details on the grants come springtime.