Council steers $16.3M in federal funds toward rent assistance, masks

The Indianapolis City-County Council on Monday night approved a spending plan for $16.3 million of the city’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds.

The funding appropriation includes an additional $7.5 million for the city’s rental assistance program; $300,000 for completion grants for students at Ivy Tech and IUPUI whose ability to afford college has been threatened by the pandemic; $1.1 million in additional adult education funding for those who need to retrain or transition to other employment; $150,000 for a re-entry financial coaching/credit repair program; and nearly $80,000 for temporary housing and intervention/education efforts for victims of domestic violence.

Another $3 million will be used to provide face masks to Marion County residents who need them.

The funding comes from roughly $168 million that Indianapolis received from the federal government to respond to COVID-19 needs.

Prior to Monday night, only $76 million of that funding had been appropriated. Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration has said it is waiting for more guidance from Congress on whether more funds are coming and if they can be used to shore up budget shortfalls. Under current guidance, the city has until the end of the year to spend the money or will have to return it to the federal government.

“There’s more to come,” Hogsett said during his state of the city address Monday night, when he addressed the appropriation. “Our efforts will continue so long as this health crisis is hurting families, students and businesses.”

A large portion of the newly appropriated money, $7.5 million, is set aside for the city’s rental assistance program and comes after the city depleted $15 million of public funding for rental assistance within days.

Within 72 hours of opening, the program had received enough applications to exceed capacity, City Chief of Staff Thomas Cook said. Residents in need have continued to be added to a waitlist for when more funding becomes available.

“We fully recognize that this additional $7.5 million will likely be insufficient,” Cook said.

The mask program also has been successful, he said. The city has already distributed 500,000 masks to the public, including to those who do not have access to a face covering. Cook said the city sometimes receives 50,000 requests for masks per week.

The appropriation also includes $400,000 for food distribution programs and funding for a city program that employs homeless residents through cleanup and beautification efforts throughout the city.

“What we are presenting before the council this evening, while significant, is obviously not an appropriation intended to address all known needs as it relates to COVID-19,” Cook said. “Rather, in many respects, this is an appropriation that we believe will allow us to get through another month.”

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