Rep. Darren Soto

Congressman Darren Soto, seen here at a Martin Luther King Jr. program in Lake Wales in January, held an online townhall recently where he discussed, among other things, what he thinks the next wave of relief funding should look like.

POLK COUNTY – During an online town hall meeting May 5, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) — whose congressional district includes much of the Osceola and Polk portions of the Four Corners region — said Congress recently appropriated an additional $12 billion in CARES Act emergency relief funding to the State of Florida, including a direct payment of $126 million to Polk County.

In addition to this money, additional federal funding is trickling into Central Florida through other sources, he explained. Soto said last week Congress appropriated more money into the Community Development Block Grant program and authorized additional housing vouchers through the Housing and Urban Development Department.

“There are two buckets of money to help out our tenants,” Soto said.

The Polk County Board of County Commissioners is considering allocating around $30 million toward emergency financial assistance for individuals and families. For the moment, all requests for COVID-19 related housing assistance are being done through the Homeless Coalition of Polk County at 863-687-8386.

Soto reminded attendees that evictions are temporarily on hold due to the pandemic.

In late April, many area cities received COVID-19 related relief funding from the Federal Aviation Authority for area airport improvements.

“I'm excited that a lot of the cities, particularly in Polk County that were left behind in the initial round, did pretty well in that second round,” Soto said.

The Kissimmee Airport was also allocated $157,000, Soto said.

Soto explained that he believes it could take a year or two for the economy to fully recover. Soto said if that becomes true, the economy may need to pass additional emergency measures and that his party’s leadership is proposing another trillion dollar relief package sometime in the future.

“We are going to be fighting to improve our pandemic infrastructure in the CARES TWO package and fight for a long term infrastructure package,” Soto said.

On his wish list were widening Interstate 4 through to U.S. 27 and extending high-speed rail from Orlando to Lakeland.

Republican Party politicians, including Florida Senator Rick Scott and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have expressed opposition to such a spending plan to date.

Soto said, however, that he believes there is bi-partisan support for more emergency funding in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Contact Charles A. Baker III at cbaker@d-r.media.