Community in Distress: City Council Discusses How to Stretch CARES Act Funding

City Councilmembers address the current state of the city amidst COVID-19 on May 11, 2020. (CR Photo)

The Clovis City Council on Monday, May 11 voted to approve an amendment to its 2019-20 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) action plan to incorporate funds awarded to the city by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Through the CARES Act, the city was given an additional $441,214 dollars and will use those funds to back two new programs to help support members of the community.

The city will invest $241,214 into a Meals on Wheels program to help deliver meals to seniors who cannot leave their homes due to the health risks associated with COVID-19. Over 30 restaurants in Clovis have already expressed an interest in helping the city execute this program.

This initial program is targeting a goal of delivering one meal per week to qualified individuals and will continue to deliver one meal per week until the funds are exhausted. Andrew Haussler, the city’s Community and Economic Developer expects the funds to last for roughly five weeks. Applications for the program can be obtained through the Clovis Senior Center.

Councilmember Mouanoutoua asked Haussler if it was possible for the city to partner with more locally-owned businesses as opposed to nationally owned chains. Haussler informed the council that while legally they have to offer the contracts to all restaurants in town, about two-thirds of the replies have been locally-owned restaurants.

Councilmember Lynne Ashbeck asked about the prospect of using these funds to support businesses. Haussler explained that was not a possibility due to the strict rules that apply to CDBG funds, primarily the rule stating that CDBG funds must benefit low-income individuals.

In response to a question from Councilmember Jose Flores regarding the dietary information of the meals to be provided, Haussler told the council that the meals provided will be full meals rather than simply a “single slice of pizza”.

Once the meals have been prepared by restaurants, they will be delivered by the staff at the Clovis Senior Center. The city is planning on having these meals delivered at more crucial points in the month. For example, many seniors receive social security checks at the beginning of the month, leaving them tight on cash as the end of the month nears.

The second program to be funded by these COVID-19 CDBG funds is targeted at helping residents who are facing eviction or foreclosures due to income loss as a result of COVID-19.

The Emergency Housing Payments Program will use the remaining $200,000 awarded to the city through the CARES Act and provide a maximum of three months of housing costs to eligible Clovis residents. Those interested in the program can contact the city for an application or print out an application through the city’s website.

As part of the application process, residents are required to submit proof of a pending foreclosure or eviction. Once approved, residents will meet with a Department of Housing and Urban Development housing counselor for the next series of steps. Like the Meals on Wheels program, the housing assistance program will continue until the funds run out.

While Clovis has decided to put these funds to work immediately, other cities have chosen to store their CARES Act CDBG funds for use on future projects. When to use the funds is left entirely in the hands of the individual city, the only requirement being  that the use of the funds must comply with CDBG rules.

Both plans were approved by the council unanimously.

The city council also approved the city’s annual action plan under their CDBG. The CDBG is a grant given to cities and municipalities by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to aid in the development of projects like town centers or other urban and suburban areas. That vote was also unanimous.

In its 2020-21 action plan, Clovis will have a total of $872,755 to spend as it sees fit. The city has labeled a number of projects to be a high priority for these funds, including job creation and retention, street and alley improvements, and improvements to sidewalks to ensure they meet ADA standards.

Reconstruction of alleys between Minnewawa Ave. and Harvard Ave. and between Cherry Ln. and Harvard Ave. southwest of Sierra Vista Elementary School are projected to make up about half of the city’s 2020-21 CDBG budget.

Ryan graduated from Buchanan High School in 2018 and is currently a student at Clovis Community College and plans to transfer to a four-year school to complete a degree in journalism or political science. Ryan was born in Pennsylvania, has lived in four states, and thinks the Yankees need to be more creative with the design of their batting practice hats.