Columbus officials say the city has received 157 million dollar in federal funding through the CARES Act to help residents recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city says it will use 80 million for COVID-19 expenses, including medical expenses for testing, EMS response, and personal protective equipment. 51 million dollars would be used for community services, including food and rental assistance. The remaining 26 million would target the economy, including small business assistance and technology for teleworking. Columbus City Council will vote Monday to accept and appropriate the funds. Council plans to approve pspending 3 million of those federal dollars for a tenant-based rental assistance program led by Impact Community Action, according to Council Housing Committee chair Shayla Favor.
"Impact will assist us by distributing these dollars to other rental assistance partners throughout our community helping to ensure residents in greatest need across our city - from seniors to veterans and low-income residents - all have access to these critical funds," Favor said. "Our goal here is simple. We want to keep families in our homes. These are difficult times for our community, but I know that with all of the amazing and skilled partners we have at the table to share in getting this work done, we will grow stronger and have positive outcomes for our residents."
Impact is run by a former City Council aide. Favor said 1,200 evictions were filed in Franklin County Municipal Court since hearings stopped in March, and the caseload is expected to grow when the court resumes proceedings June 1. The city will allocate 250 thousand dollars to the Legal Aid Society of Columbus to increase legal representation to tenants facing eviction. The federal funding influx will help the city now and in the future, according to Council president Shannon Hardin.
"In the short term, we have to keep families in their homes," Hardin continued. "We have to ensure small businesses can reopen based on the public health guidance and when they feel safe. We have to protect workers who can't work from home and need to put on a mask each and every morning. In the long term, we need to stabilize the economy, rebuilding our city with stronger foundation for families and working people. This is the first in a series of legislative actions that council plans to advance in coordination and partnership with the mayor and the community."
Hardin said the city will also be looking to support non-profits, especially in the human services area. The city's finance director, Joe Lombardi, said there were restrictions on the use of the federal funds initially, but there's more flexibility now. The city has already spent about 7 million dollars on COVID-19-related items.
"Cleaning services, PPE, social distancing efforts, and those are the types of things we will continue to spend the money on moving forward," Lombardi said. "We are going to gather a group here in my department that will look at what we've spent and are those are eligibile to be reimbursed. The next phase will be to reach out to some of our departments who will have an immediate need, such as Health for testing and contact tracing, Recreation and Parks as they look at modified programs, and then the human services and economic recovery dollars."
Mayor Andy Ginther also announced the formation of a Recovery and Resiliency Advisory Group to help Columbus bounce back from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic and to prepare for the next crisis. Ginther says members of that group will be finalized in the coming weeks