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Quorum Court to vote on virus relief

JPs consider appropriating $60,000 from fund for rent, food, utility assistance by David Showers | December 14, 2020 at 4:00 a.m.

HOT SPRINGS -- A looming eviction crisis and a local economy that's lost thousands of jobs since April have many county residents on the brink of financial calamity.

To keep them from going over the precipice, the Garland County Quorum Court will consider an ordinance Monday appropriating $60,000 for rent, utility and food assistance. The Quorum Court's Finance Committee has endorsed it. The appropriation is part of the $691,323 Garland County Judge Darryl Mahoney is asking to allocate from the $2.35 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding the state awarded the county.

The ordinance included $601,323 to pay 396 full-time county employees a $1,200 hazard bonus and $30,000 for the Garland County Fair Board.

The Community Services Office of Hot Springs and Garland County would administer the $30,000 grant for rent and utility assistance. The form the nonprofit files with the Internal Revenue Service to maintain its tax-exempt status defined its mission as administering programs for low-income people using state, local and federal resources.

The county's annual contract for services with the nonprofit said the $10,354 grant included in the 2021 budget the Quorum Court will consider Monday funds the Community Services Office's emergency services budget, which, according to the contract, provides funds for temporary lodging, prescriptions, emergency dental and other basic needs.

The funding also provides temporary rental assistance to those facing eviction, a reality many could confront when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium expires at the end of the year. The $30,000 grant for rental and utility assistance included in the ordinance the quorum court will consider Monday would be in addition to the annual grant the county awards the Community Services Office.

"We already have a contract for services with [the Community Services Office] where we participate with them in community advancement throughout the year," Mahoney said. "We normally give them $10,000. This will be in addition to that that they can use for utility assistance, rental assistance."

The authority to issue grants for public aid is within the jurisdiction of the county court, the body through which county judges exercise their executive authority. The state's county government code authorizes the county court to contract with agencies that serve the poor.

The ordinance also included a $30,000 grant to the Jackson House for food assistance. Mahoney said the money would buy three-fourths of a truckload of food for the poor.

The city of Hot Springs is soliciting proposals from nonprofits interested in administering a public feeding program with the $50,284 the Hot Springs Board of Directors allocated from the $254,473 the city received in U.S. Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant funding to prevent, prepare and respond to the coronavirus.

The request for proposals the city issued last month said many local food banks have depleted their funds and are in danger of running out of resources. The request for proposals closes Monday.

Earlier this month, the city board reallocated $126,825 of the city's CDBG coronavirus funding to rent and utility assistance. It directed $100,000 to three months of emergency rent subsistence payments and $26,825 for utility assistance for city residents with financial and medical hardships caused by the pandemic. The city said it plans to request proposals from nonprofits interested in administering the relief program.

Mahoney said he may ask the Quorum Court to appropriate more public assistance money from the county's $2.35 million in CARES Act funding.

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The state Department of Finance and Administration told the steering committee the governor appointed to review and recommend applications for funding from the state's $1.25 billion CARES Act allotment that per U.S. Department of the Treasury guidance, public assistance is an eligible expense for cities and counties. The committee set aside $150 million for city and county aid.

"It's my understanding they'll be able to fund food banks, rental assistance and mortgage assistance where it's covid related," Department of Finance and Administration Director Larry Walther told the committee in September. "We're going to be able to support those cities and counties to a great degree and assist those citizens who are already in deep because of this covid crisis."

Mahoney said the county applied for and received all of the $2.35 million for which it was eligible, a sum the committee based on the formula the state uses to disburse turnback money to counties.

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