Public health, equity and homelessness proposed as relief spending priorities for Amherst COVID



AMHERST – A public restroom building in downtown Amherst, modifications to the Amherst Regional Middle School to accommodate sixth grade classes in the building and the salary of a diversity coordinator, equity and inclusion are among the potential uses of the $ 11.9 million in federal funds that Amherst is receiving.

The ideas for spending the money from the American Rescue Plan Act, outlined in a presentation by CFO Sean Mangano to city council on Monday, are the first step in a process that will include public input later this month.

Zoom Listening Sessions will take place October 13 at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. and October 21 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., on the Engage Amherst website, with links available at .

Already, the process established by the finance committee over the summer has included internal discussions with department heads and committee members and conversations with representatives from local entities, including the Business Improvement District. Amherst, Family Outreach of Amherst, and the Musante Health Center.

Mangano explained that the money can be used for several purposes, including to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, combat the economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, and invest in water, sewage and infrastructure in broadband.

The current plan shows that the largest amount, approximately $ 1.76 million, would go towards public health and racial equity activities. These would include funding for the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion item that is already in this year’s budget, maintaining four additional emergency firefighters through fiscal year 2023 that were originally created with the funds. federal CARES Act, and the hiring of an additional public health nurse and staff member. to support COVID-19 contact tracing and vaccine administration.

About $ 1 million would help the city explore transitional housing options for people over the next two budget years and implement other solutions to shelter the homeless.

Another million dollars would be used to expand affordable housing over the next two years and develop housing assistance programs.

The college renovations could use a portion of $ 800,000 that would go towards education initiatives, while $ 700,000 would help city officials explore the creation or expansion of a youth center, with a request for proposals at first, then the establishment of such a center and run within four years.

Advisors asked many questions about spending priorities and expressed concern that only $ 575,000 is spent on business economic recovery, even though it is a hard hit sector.

According to the plans outlined, some of this money will go to a small business start-up and an emergency relief program over the next two years. These expenses also include money for the construction of a toilet building accessible to the public.

City manager Paul Bockelman said everyone supported the need for a toilet, but no site for the construction of such a building has been identified.

At-Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke asked if money could be set aside to extend additional ambulance and firefighting personnel beyond fiscal 2023.

Other spending would go to expand preschool options, reduce fuel consumption, and fund transportation for seniors.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at [email protected]



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