The City of Hattiesburg has been awarded $321,280 through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act that will provide assistance to low and moderate-income households whose income has been negatively impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, among other measures.
The funds – which come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Community Development Block Grant Program – will be split up several ways through a nonprofit organization.
Approximately $71,000 will be used to pay certain rent and utility payments for residents, $50,000 will be used for assistance to small businesses, and $50,000 will be used for a public Wi-Fi project that would install equipment at parks or low-income neighborhoods.
“The remainder of the funds were earmarked for these pop-up COVID testing sites,” said Andrew Ellard, director of the city’s Urban Development Department. “That’s not for the cost of testing itself, because that cost is actually being handled through a grant that our agency had access to.
“But that agency did not have the funds to cover ancillary costs for things like security at the facility or janitorial services at the facility, and also follow-up services for people that might test positive. Then also, there’s additional funds that may, if needed, go toward staffing for outreach – just to continue the outreach and education, especially in low-end neighborhoods, on the importance of people getting tested and understanding the practices that can help avoid transmission of COVID.”
Because there is not yet an agreement in place for the rent and utility assistance, Ellard will present Hattiesburg City Council members with a service agreement at the first meeting in July.
Until that agreement is approved, there will not be an application process for that part of the funding.
“But the expectation is, if and when it’s approved, that they would be able to reach out to Christian Services either by phone or on their website,” Ellard said. “I don’t believe there’s anything out there available now, because until the agreement is in place, there’s really not anything they can commit to.
“But after July 8, interested individuals should reach out to Christian Services for an application. They will have to go through an income qualification process to show that they qualify, and that has to do with HUD’s rules with CDBG funds in general.”
Although the CARES funds are not directly related to the recent reduction in workforce by the city, those employees who were laid off also may benefit from the services.
“And of course, with a program like public Wi-Fi, that’s certainly not going to be limited to any particular individual – it’s going to be focused on low-income neighborhoods,” Ellard said. “And the testing at the pop-up sites – like the C.E. Roy (Community Center) – that’s certainly not limited.
“So anyone who was affected by the reduction in force several weeks ago would certainly be eligible to take advantage of any of these opportunities, too.”
The city chose to work with a nonprofit organization during the process of utility payments to avoid a conflict of interest, as the city provides its own water and utility services to residents.
“Realizing that the city does, itself, own and operate a water, sewer and sanitation utility, first we wanted to be sure that we were okay with this sub-recipient being able to make payments for somebody that might be in arrears,” Ellard said. “There could be a perceived appearance that the city is unduly benefitting in that regard, rather than just the individuals themselves.”