By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
City council unanimously approved plans for residential rental assistance, food security and small business assistance with money the city received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act at a virtual legislative meeting on Tuesday evening.
The CARES Act, a $2 trillion economic relief package that President Donald Trump signed into law on March 27, allocated a total of $139 billion to states. Each state was given the authority to determine whether to allot any of that funding to localities.
Of the $3.3 billion allocated to Virginia, the City of Alexandria will receive at least $13.9 million, City Manager Mark Jinks told council. There will be a second tranche of funding, likely of the same amount, but it’s still unclear exactly how much the city will receive and when, Jinks said.
Council members and city staff have been discussing what to do with the federal funding since they learned they’d likely receive it more than a month ago. On Tuesday, council voted to allocate $4.6 million to the city’s COVID-19 response costs, $500,000 to Alexandria Health Department staffing, $2.4 million to a food security plan, $4 million to residential rental assistance and $2.4 million to small business grants.
“The goal throughout has been making sure we put this money to work as quickly as possible for the residents and businesses of this community,” Mayor Justin Wilson said.
The funding for COVID-19 response costs will go toward reimbursing the city for money it has already spent on personal protective equipment, emergency response pay, technology acquisitions and more, Jinks said. The AHD funding will be used for increased epidemiological staffing.
The remaining funding for housing, food and business was based on plans established by the Office of Housing, Department of Community and Human Services and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. At the legislative meeting, leaders in each sector presented the plans to council.
The residential rental assistance plan will offer up to $600 per month for three months to eligible households. Eligible applicants must prove documented loss of income due to COVID-19 and meet specified income criteria.
The program is designed to reduce the amount of rent owed to landlords that would otherwise have to be paid in the future, so all rental assistance payments will be made directly to landlords on behalf of the renters, according to the plan.
“As proposed, the program prioritizes Alexandria renters with the greatest need and the least access to resources,” Helen McIlvaine, director of the Office of Housing, said. “The program’s goal is to enhance the housing and financial security of Alexandria renters by reducing their future rent repayment burdens.”
With the approved $4 million allocation, the program is estimated to serve 2,200 households, McIlvaine said.
The food security plan, which was developed by DCHS with the assistance of various nonprofit partners, involves a variety of distribution events.
Major efforts include two large-scale food distributions twice a month, monthly home delivery of frozen meals for self-isolating older adults and monthly grocery gift card distribution.
The efforts are estimated to help 13,750 Alexandrians per month.
“We’re getting feedback from nonprofit partners and others to build a dashboard map that … uses indicators that will help us identify the places where we should be focusing,” Kate Garvey, director of DCHS, said. “The information that’s in the dashboard already is SNAP participants, families who are eligible for free and reduced meals, locations where we have high-density apartments, where we’ve distributed Meals on Wheels [and] where the other ALIVE! activities have taken place.”
The last effort the CARES money would fund is a small business support plan.
Stephanie Landrum, president and chief executive officer of the AEDP, stressed the importance of helping small businesses during this time.
“The last two programs that we’ve been talking about, I think more of as lifelines: helping people stay in housing and getting them food,” Landrum said. “This program, I think we should think about as a catapult. The idea is that we are trying to help businesses get back to profitability, get back to employing people as quickly as possible.”
The grants will be available for eligible businesses with two to 100 employees. The businesses will have to meet certain criteria, such as having a business license and being located within the City of Alexandria. They also must demonstrate acceptable use of the grant funds.
“We really want businesses to demonstrate to us that they will use this money to facilitate the successful reopening or rescaling of their business,”Landrum said.
The grant size will align with the size of the business. Businesses with two to 24 employees could receive up to $10,000, 25 to 49 up to $15,000 and 50 to 100 up to $20,000.
Council approved the three plans unanimously.
“I really appreciate the thought that has gone into all of these areas. There’s clearly been a lot of innovation occurring,” Wilson said. “We were definitely not the first [to] roll all this out, but I think that was actually really beneficial, because we were able to kind of learn from what others were doing and really structure a program that takes the best from a lot of folks and I think is going to help us best recover.”