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The city of Mission held a workshop this week to discuss how they intend to use COVID emergency funds for members of the CDBG program.
The Community Development Block Grant program involves “the development of viable urban communities by providing decent housing, a suitable living environment and expanding economic opportunities principally for people of low and moderate incomes,” according to the city website. It is intended to “benefit low and moderate income people, prevent or eliminate slums or blight and meet other urgent community development needs.”
A workshop held Tues. May 26 discussed a couple of potential plans on the dispensing of $573,402 of COVID funds to the CDBG program. City Manager Randy Perez and Community Development Director Jo Anne Longoria presented three options to the city council for review.
“The city of Mission was entitled the allocation of $573,402,” Perez said. “There are some guidelines regarding the use of funds and eligible activities.”
The eligible activities for COVID-19 funding include building an improvement including public facilities, assistance to business including economic development assistance and public service.
“Within those three guidelines there are specifics,” Perez said. “The timeline for this particular funding is so that we can get consensus and direction for this funding, to be able to bring it back to the council for approval the first meeting of June.”
April 2, 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development informed the city of the allocation. The first option presented to council allocated $498,402 to the Mission Food Pantry to purchase food items, basic essentials and non-perishables to eligible households, provide one-time emergency payments up to three months for low-income eligible households and provide salaries, fringe benefits, office supplies and equipment to administer the running of the pantry. The first option also allocated $75,000 to Amigos Del Valle, Inc. to assist seniors who were affected by COVID-19, expand the meal delivery program and offer a drive-thru meal pickup.
The second option allocated $500,000 to economic development, including to provide assistance to private for-profit entities for economic development activities in the forms of a grant or loan, and to avoid job loss caused by business closures related to social distancing. The second option also allocates $73,402 to administration for staff costs to administer the economic development programs.
The third option was presented when Citizens Advisory Committee members asked about testing. It allocates all $573,402 toward COVID-19 testing for 3,000 members of the general public in Mission and to repair and/or rehabilitate city facilities to provide that testing, via nasal swabs and antibodies.
Council member Jessica Ortega-Ochoa asked if it would be possible for some funding to be allocated to hiring more employees (like a social worker) in the program, because the need at the Food Pantry has increased in recent months. Longoria explained that two additional employees were included in the first plan.
Ortega-Ochoa also asked if it would be possible for residents to opt out of food aid if they would prefer funding toward their electrical, water or other utility bills, which they may prioritize if they have access to food. Council member Ruben Plata echoed her notions, adding that there are a lot of residents in need who may prefer financial assistance in categories other than food, like utility bills.
Perez and Longoria stated that the numbers and funding can be allocated in any way within the guidelines, and the council can give input on how they’d specifically wanted to distribute the funds.
Perez said they would go back to the staff and ensure everything the council members mentioned was covered evenly, and everyone has the same opportunity before bringing it back.
An emergency meeting held Wed. May 27 extended the emergency declaration made by the city originally on March 13, 2020. The city extended the declaration throughout the remainder of the pandemic, which is currently being classified as through the end of 2020.
Following the emergency meeting, a special called meeting was held where City Manager Perez presented how the city plans to use funds from the CARES Act, which are meant to cover costs accrued by the city during the coronavirus pandemic emergency and in the future.
Perez gathered information and current and potential expenditures from each department head, then broke them down into a draft budget. After taking 26 accounts and listing how much each is hoping for, the total draft budget was $14,186,821.50.
“One of the things we experienced during the pandemic and currently is the need of equipment, technology, supplies and also different methods to work remotely and to be prepared for this pandemic in the future and currently,” Perez said. “Every single department submitted a proposed draft of what they would consider for each department use.”
Perez said the draft budget was COVID-19 related, and necessary expenditures accrued were not accounted for in the city budget. The current allocation announced to the city from the CARES Act is $110 per capita, which would mean $9.3 million for Mission.
“Adjustments made for the departments included remote telemarketing, working remotely from other sites, working from home, depending on the situation,” Perez said. “Moving forward, we felt that technology upgrades were necessary to be able to accommodate this moving forward. We’re not over this current pandemic, and we want to be prepared in case we shut down again so we have the necessary equipment.”
Perez gave the council a copy of the summary draft budget, as well as a more extensive breakdown of how each department came to their figures. The summary draft budget is reprinted with this issue, as shown with this article.
While a lot of the focus is on technology, Perez noted that sanitation equipment was also a top priority, as sanitation machinery recently gathered was not previously available. He said that because several necessary services for citizens were moved to the drive-thru lanes at city hall, they’ve seen several instances of congestion in the lines, which necessitates the expansion of the lot to include a couple more lanes in order to expedite and ensure service to all residents.
Council member Ortega-Ochoa asked about how the city staff planned to adjust to cutting the draft budget by about $5 million, as they have only been allocated $9.3 million. Perez said they would first look to cut funds from the Individual Citizen’s Utility Assistance, the Boys & Girls Club entrance and the Downtown Rental Stimulus Package.
All council members present expressed a need for first responders like the police and fire departments need to be covered within the CARES Act funds. Daniel Silva, the Chief Executive Officer for the Mission Economic Development Corporation, and Brenda Enriquez, the President of the Greater Mission Chamber of Commerce, each presented their own action plans for helping restore the economy and stimulate solid income and growth in businesses.
Council members stated they were grateful for the work that was put into the draft budget, but would like to see an additional draft of the budget before the 23 days to declare the funds for the CARES Act are up. They plan to meet again in the coming weeks to hear more information and move forward.
“This is a working document, we’re looking at changes daily,” Perez said. “We’re receiving notifications on additional funding that might be available in the future, so that might change these numbers as well, to be able to offer different programs through different funding.”