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Rochester has $7.5 million in CARES cash — and hears lots of ideas on how to spend it 

Nearly two dozen people voiced their ideas on how Rochester should spend $7.5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds at a City Council committee meeting Thursday.

Some wanted better access to digital infrastructure for the city’s children. Others wanted more support for the city’s homeless. Some petitioned for a break in rent payments.

The full Council is set to vote this month to allocate the funding, which was provided to the city in April under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

As it stands, Council will use the funding to modify the 2019-20 Consolidated Community Development Action Plan, a document that maps out how the city spends Department of Housing and Urban Development grants. The largesse includes Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA), and Emergency Solutions Grants.

Brigit Hurley, senior director of advocacy and program at the Children’s Agenda, encouraged Council to use funds to address the “digital divide” by expanding internet access.

“Among the realities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic are the disparities that exist in Rochester, particularly in access to Wi-Fi and appropriate devices,” Hurley wrote. “As a result, children are being denied educational services, speech and other therapies, social and emotional support, and arts, literary, and music experience.”

Angela Rollins, community operations associate at the Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, wrote a detailed list covering economic relief that the CARES funding could provide, including assisting residents who fell behind on rent and other payments due to the pandemic.

“I think people are going to need reasonable grace periods to pay for these bills that were deferred,” Rollins wrote. “They’re going to need more time.”

Rochester resident Norma Torres was more blunt. “Free rent!” Torres wrote.

The legislation outlining the use of funds came out of committee Thursday evening by unanimous vote. The bill will go to vote at the Council’s monthly meeting on Tuesday.

The proposed use of CARES funding will provide $4.9 million to Community Development Block Grants, $2.4 million to Emergency Solutions Grants, and $142,029 to HOPWA.

Programs set to go to vote Tuesday include:
  • $1.5 million toward Business Emergency Retention Grant: Used as working capital for businesses impacted by COVID-19. Offered to cover operating expenses including rent, mortgage, utilities, payroll, insurance, and inventory.
  • $300,000 toward Business Food Establishment Grant: Aimed to support restaurants in preparing meals for city residents, and covers similar expenses as the Business Emergency Retention Grant.
  • $100,000 to Emergency Assistance Repair Program: Program assists owner-occupants at or below 80 percent area median income in furnace, hot water tanks, and other emergencies. Funding will assist about 50 households.
  • $300,000 Landlord Rehabilitation Grant Program: Program to help approximately 150 landlords provide minor repairs to vacant dwellings. Future tenants must be at or below 80 percent area median income.
  • $185,000 to Landlord/Tenant Services Program: Funding offered through an existing partnership with the Legal Aid Society, aimed at supporting families directly impacted by COVID-19.
  • $75,000 for Foreclosure Prevention Program: Program establishes partnerships with the Housing Council at Pathstone, which will receive $65,000, and the Empire Justice Center, which will receive $10,000 for a program aimed at assisting homeowners in avoiding foreclosure.
  • $142,029 for HOPWA: Provides additional funding in supporting households of people with AIDS impacted by COVID-19. Another $85,000 will go to Trillium Health, and $57,000 to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rochester.
  • $20,000 for Aging in Place Food Distribution Program: Program through Lifespan of Greater Rochester that delivers food to seniors.
  • $1 million disbursed to 12 agencies working to prevent homeless and provide support for the housing insecure.
  • $721,038 for providing digital access to children. The program will establish a one-year partnership with the United Way of Greater Rochester aimed at assisting RCSD students in having access to needed technology for online learning.
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at gfanelli@rochester-citynews.com.
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