Pandemic funds boost Portland's grants to social service agencies

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Gillian Graham, Portland Press Herald, Maine
·2 min read
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Mar. 30—Portland's city manager said Tuesday that the city has enough money to fully fund nearly every request from social services agencies for Community Development Block Grant allocations.

In a letter to the City Council, Jon Jennings said the city received extra CDBG funding from the federal government because of the pandemic and is in a unique position to support agencies that have an "immeasurable" impact in the community. Many of the allocations recommended by Jennings would go to agencies that support people experiencing homelessness, an issue that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Typically the agencies compete for limited funding and receive only a portion of what they request.

"As in past years, there are more deserving applicants than funds available, but what makes this year unique is the city has additional CDBG resources available to address the impacts of COVID-19," Jennings said.

The city received $634,669 in supplemental CDBG funding last year, most of which the city planned to use for rental assistance rental assistance. Shortly after that, the state launched a rental assistance program and MaineHousing asked the city not to do local rental assistance because city residents would be eligible to access the statewide program.

Some of the funds were targeted for applicants that meet the requirements for supplemental CDBG funding because their programs prevent, prepare for or respond to COVID-19. Social services agencies such as Preble Street, Milestone and Catholic Charities would receive a portion of the $910,094 allocated for social services in the coming year. Last year, the city allocated $664,347 to social service agencies.

The total amount being allocated in block grants for 2021-22 is $2.3 million, which is about $300,000 more than last year. That includes money for the city's planning department, for economic development efforts and for social service agencies.

Jennings said that without CDBG funding, it is likely a majority of the programs that applied for grants would not be able to operate, creating additional gaps in service, and an increased strain on an already limited system. An estimated 9,320 individuals and 48 families will be served through the programs.

"From medical care to food security, these programs will address the critical needs exasperated by the Coronavirus pandemic through a collaborative process and network of providers. The network of social service agencies in Portland has faced extreme challenges through the pandemic, from adapting programs to adhere to social distancing, to protecting staff members and clients, all while continuing to operate with a minimal disruption to services. The resiliency and dedication these agencies have displayed is commendable," Jennings wrote to the council.

The City Council will hold remote public hearings on April 5 and 26 before taking a final vote on the allocations.