Federal coronavirus pandemic relief money has been earmarked to help tenants pay their rent during the economic turndown in Indiana County.
The county board of commissioners on Wednesday designated the Indiana County Community Action Program to administer the program and commended county staffers for fast action to secure a grant.
“We put in for $25,000 to see if we might be able to help 20 to 25 families with some rental relief assistance,” said Lisa Spencer, executive director of Indiana County Department of Human Services. “It was a really quick turnaround; Michelle (Faught, ICCAP director) and I are ready to go, we have all the documents uploaded and we should be ready to run with this program.”
The money is part of the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act assistance package approved in March by Congress.
The funds would be paid directly to landlords, Spencer said.
“This cannot be used in conjunction with any other money,” she said. “Our thought is that our HAP money, the Homeless Assistance Program, will still help the lower-income individuals and families because those have income guidelines set for that. So our thinking is this money will help the families that are right over the guidelines. They’re also in need and they always get left out of funding.”
Spencer said county officials were only recently made aware of the program and that the details are still being confirmed.
“They pushed it out so quickly, two Thursdays ago, and last Thursday we had to have our participation agreement in,” Spender said. “Now we’re just getting the rest of the documents. I think they’re actually still just getting it together as they push things out.”
More COVID-19 pandemic assistance money is expected to assist other facets of the Indiana County economy.
At the recommendation of Byron Stauffer, executive director of Indiana County Office of Planning & Development, the commissioners will apply to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for a grant of $7.6 million of CARES cash from the County Relief Block Grant program for a cross-section of other needs throughout the county.
Stauffer said CARES money is intended to “support COVID-19-related activities to offset the cost of direct county COVID-19 response, including purchase of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), assist businesses, including tourism related and local municipalities, provide behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment services, fund nonprofit assistance programs, and deploy broadband to unserved and underserved areas.”
In other business, the commissioners:
• Approved plans to extend broadband service to Brush Valley and Green townships under two updates to a telecommunication contract already in place between Indiana County Emergency Management Agency and Salsgiver Telecom Inc.
The commissioners agreed to spend $301,891 on the two upgrades.
One change calls for extending the county’s fiberoptic cable nine miles along Route 954 from White Township and along Route 56 to Brush Valley.
ICEMA Director Thomas Stutzman said the extension would lead to a Wi-Fi spot to serve the area.
“The system extension would provide for approximately 294 private customers’ direct connections to high speed internet along with 606 wireless users, potentially, in the immediate area in Brush Valley Township,” Stutzman said.
The second change calls for use of existing fiber that had earlier been run along Route 240 in Green Township as part of the public safety radio system to start a Wi-Fi location in the area.
“This extension will provide for approximately 359 private customers with direct connections to the fiber path, and another 1,477 wireless users in the immediate area,” Stutzman said.
Stauffer said the Keystone Communities grant program, an earlier grant from Appalachian Regional Commission and CARES Act money would pay for the broadband service extensions.
• Approved an agreement with Mission Critical Partners, as recommended by Stutzman, to develop a continuity of operations plan including a comprehensive COVID-19 disaster recovery plan.
“As you know, as we’ve worked through the COVID-19 disaster, we have experienced work-from-home, reduced workforce and need for acquisition of equipment,” Stutzman said. “We have had a serious need to develop a county agency plan, that would address every agency within county government and how we would operate … during a pandemic or any other manmade or natural disaster.”
Stutzman said Mission Critical Partners would finish the plan in about 90 days for a fee of $89,484. CARES Act funds would cover the cost.
• Accepted a bid of $242,000 from Quaker Sales for paving part of the Hoodlebug Trail
• Agreed to a change in the kinds of flooring material to be installed in the new Alice Paul House domestic violence shelter. Luxury vinyl tile would be used instead of carpet in two handicapped-accessible client rooms and switch from wood to rubber base throughout the building, at an increased cost of $1,325.
• Adopted a resolution to recertify that the Indiana County Revolving Loan Fund operates in compliance with economic development strategies and with policies and procedures in the administrative plan.