New Hanover County supports businesses, helps families, expands wireless

By County Manager, Chris Coudriet

Since the start of COVID-19, New Hanover County has led the public health response in our community: setting up testing sites, performing contact tracing to help stop the spread of the virus, working hand-in-hand with the hospital to monitor the virus, providing guidance to long-term care facilities, offering consultations for business reopening, answering thousands of calls from our residents and providing support and resources.

COVID-19 has called us to action in ways we’ve never seen before. But we have been ready, we have responded, and we will continue to do that in the months ahead.

Since May, New Hanover County has received two allocations of funding – totaling $8,615,582 – from the Coronavirus Relief Fund established under the CARES Act. This funding has been distributed to the City of Wilmington and our beach towns, and used to offset costs that the county is incurring from our public health and emergency response, help fund additional senior meals and support, and ensure cleaning and social distancing at county facilities. You can see an outline of exactly how the funding is being utilized in the August 10 Commissioner agenda here.

As part of the CARES funding, the Board of Commissioners has made a concerted effort to ensure our community directly benefits, with more than 30 percent of our CARES Act funding being reinvested directly back into the community through several significant, targeted initiatives to help our residents.

At the board’s direction, the county provided $1.3 million in grants to 130 small businesses in our county in June – something that gave them a lifeline to continue their work and continue employing our residents.

The board has also allocated an additional $1.3 million to provide financial relief to families in need of child care for school-aged children, and assistance to households at risk of losing housing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These programs are being administered by our Department of Social Services and as of Friday, August 21 (11 days into the two programs), 412 households have applied for housing support, 33 childcare facilities are participating in the program, and 141 children are enrolled with their participating childcare center.

COVID-19 has strained our economy, families, and students are having to navigate virtual learning and additional childcare needs, and many of our residents are unemployed and fearful of how they will pay their rent to stay in their homes. It’s clear that there is a need, and we will continue our work and do all we can to meet that need.

These programs will continue to help residents until the $1.3 million in funding is gone, and then the county will reassess and determine how else we can help our residents during these uncertain and trying times. If you or anyone you know could benefit, please visit SocialServices.NHCgov.com/COVID.

We also recently announced a free Wi-Fi initiative that the county has undertaken with several community partners to make sure students, families, and job-seekers have places to go for free high-speed internet if they don’t have access at home. This is a big and important initiative that adds 6 outdoor Wi-Fi locations at county facilities (with more to come), 18 drive-up Wi-Fi sites at area schools, and more community locations to be brought online in the coming weeks.

Thank you to our county’s IT Department, the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, Cloudwyze, the school system, Live Oak Bank, nCino and Apiture for stepping forward to help expand wireless access in our community. I look forward to seeing even more equitable internet opportunities for our residents as the year progresses.

I don’t think any of us were prepared for the changes that COVID-19 would bring, but I believe the county has taken important measures to help our businesses, families, and residents during these difficult times.

It does take all of us, coming together, serving together. And I appreciate everyone in our community who has taken up this call to action – by volunteering, supporting, and providing assistance to those who need it most.

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