After Unified Government staff went over proposed “immediate needs” funding for federal ARPA funding Thursday night, commissioners began to talk about what was not there.
Commissioner Gayle Townsend said when she looked at the report, she saw a lot of UG staffing requests that would be needed to run the UG’s programs. She didn’t see much direct assistance to residents.
“I am very concerned and want to focus on those people who are in need getting the assistance,” she said at the 5 p.m. Thursday UG Commission meeting.
‘I am very concerned and want to focus on those people who are in need of getting the assistance.’Commissioner Gayle Townsend
How much of the money would actually funnel down to the people who need a roof over their head, need food, or have unpaid electric bills, she asked. Is any stipend available to members of the community who were going through a difficult time, with food insecurity or utility and transportation problems, she added.
The UG’s ARPA American Rescue Plan Act funding plan that the commission heard on Thursday night did not have a provision for direct financial help for those having problems with basic needs, she was told. The CARES Act funding earlier did have such a provision, with money funneled through the United Way to local agencies that then helped individuals.
Commissioner Jane Philbrook took the UG to task for not including direct assistance for needy residents.
In her view, “immediate need” would include residents who need food, funds for housing and other assistance.
‘At least 50 families have hit the bricks in the last couple weeks that are homeless, and a lot more are on that list.’Commissioner Jane Philbrook
“At least 50 families have hit the bricks in the last couple weeks that are homeless, and a lot more are on that list,” Commissioner Philbrook said.
There are more than 2,000 children in schools in Wyandotte County who do not have homes, and they’re trying to help them, but it is not always funded, she said.
For many, the eviction moratorium is a sort of “wishful thinking,” Commissioner Philbrook said. Some people who got assistance through KERA, the Kansas Emergency Rental Act, did not get their leases extended, she said. As soon as some landlords got a chance, they evicted them, she said.
People jumped through the hoops, community partners helped them get assistance, “but they’re still getting evicted right and left,” Commissioner Philbrook said.
“Don’t be living in a bubble and think we’re not going to have a tent city in Wyandotte County, because we’re going to and it’s going to be much worse if we don’t address some of this stuff,” she said.
“I can’t tell you how upset I am,” Commissioner Philbrook said. “I am deeply disappointed in our approach.”
Although the UG staff said it has had some community conversations, including a public hearing, many community members feel totally left out of that conversation, she said.
“I am heartbroken with what we are throwing out here and expecting the community to genuflect over what you have given us,” she said.
Commissioner Melissa Bynum also said the amount of money set aside for human services in this proposal did not seem to be nearly enough. In the past, allocations to community nonprofit agencies were about $3.6 million under the CARES Act funding in Wyandotte County, according to UG officials.
In answer to her question, UG officials said they had $90 million in requests from the community that had come in already. That included conversations with nonprofit agency representatives, public hearings, internal UG requests, as well as requests to address public facility needs at the UG, stormwater needs and broadband needs in the community, according to UG officials.
UG Commissioner Mike Kane asked about more funding for the front-line police officers and firefighters. He wanted UG staff to meet with union members to talk about the needs. UG Administrator Doug Bach said they could work on it in a few weeks.
More funding is needed for front-line police officers, firefighters and public safety employees.Commissioner Mike Kane
UG officials said they were presenting the “immediate needs” proposal as an idea, and wanted the UG commissioners to add anything else to it that they wanted.
Some of the ideas in the proposal were more indirectly assisting residents. One idea contained in their proposal, for example, would be to hire a person to help people with their applications for energy and rental assistance, from the KERA program. Another idea would help with programs to reduce violence. Another idea provided funds for the Dotte mobile grocery, to get fresh foods to areas without grocery stores. The proposal also contained funding to help with food delivery at congregate meal sites here. There also was funding for legal assistance for those facing evictions, health care issues and other COVID-related crises.
Also, there was $500,000 set aside for small business support.
Doug Bach, UG administrator, said they were looking for the UG Commission’s input, and if they would like to add an amount to human services, they could.
He said he could talk with the United Way, or similar agency, to help administer funds for basic needs assistance, including funding for the homeless.
Commissioner Philbrook recommended talking to the United Way, which handled some CARES Act funding for the UG, and some other agencies to find out the amount of the need and how much money would be needed.
Commissioner Christian Ramirez said he supported some of what Commissioner Philbrook suggested and they could put more into it than what was originally proposed.
Also, Commissioner Ramirez said all the socio-economic issues were deeply rooted in the community and country. While he supports more funding for individuals, he said they could not fix all the problems here and now. There would not be a change unless there is a change in society, he said.
Socio-economic issues are deeply rooted in the community and country, and all the problems could not be fixed.Commissioner Christian Ramirez
How the UG’s ARPA funds are being divided
In a lengthy presentation, UG staff presented a proposal for “immediate needs” spending of its ARPA funds. Much of the basic information is online at https://dashboards.mysidewalk.com/american-rescue-plan-act/immediate-needs.
Of the UG’s $87 million from ARPA, $55 million will go to the city of Kansas City, Kansas, and $32 million was to Wyandotte County.
Of the city’s funds, $31 million was proposed to replace city revenue loss from the pandemic period and $24 million would be available for other ARPA expenditures.
Of the county’s funds, $11 million was proposed to replace county revenue loss in the pandemic, with $21 million available for other ARPA categories.
The “immediate needs” expenditures would total $11.74 million, with $5.95 million going to public health, $2.38 million to reduce negative economic impacts of the pandemic, $1.07 million for disproportionately impacted communities assistance, $422,000 for ARPA grant support and $1.93 million for online processing and technology investment.
Juliann van Liew, director of the UG Health Department, in an appearance at the UG meeting Aug. 12, said funding was needed immediately at the Health Department in order to continue its fight against COVID.
According to UG staff, the UG was proposing to fund positions such as a grant writer and a person to work with KERA applicants, that would result in the community getting extra federal or state dollars for individuals and programs in the community.
But Bach said funds can be added for direct assistance to needy individuals if the commission would like to see that.
Commission could vote on ‘immediate needs’ on Aug. 26
Bach said the UG staff was planning to bring a revised proposal back to the UG Commission for a vote on Aug. 26.
He also said the UG is not under a tight deadline to spend all the ARPA funds right away. They have a few years to consider options on it. They were considering a smaller portion of the $87 million for “immediate needs.”
Commissioners Townsend and Philbrook discussed getting more community input on how to spend the funding.
Mayor David Alvey suggested that since the charter lays out a representative government process, that people should reach out to their commissioners to bring forward their ideas on what should be done.
A written report on the UG’s proposed “immediate needs” uses of the ARPA funds is at https://dashboards.mysidewalk.com/american-rescue-plan-act/immediate-needs.
There was a public hearing held previously on the ARPA funds. More public comments can be made online at https://dottetalk.mindmixer.com/, and also by emailing ARPA@wycokck.org .
Much more detail about the UG’s proposed uses of ARPA funds was covered in the UG meeting, which is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26KV6wqb5rk.