Sherman is allocating emergency funds to families and community groups that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, the City Council approved allocating more than $217,000 to assisting families with rent and utility assistance along with community and non-profit groups that have adversely been affected by the recent pandemic.
These funds are being provided through the city’s Community Development Block Grant Program. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development annually provides funds to the city through this fund for improvements to low- to moderate-income areas.
“As part of the Coronavirus relief, the federal government has allocated us an additional $217,000,” Sherman Finance Director Mary Lawrence said. “So, a part of that will go to our partner organizations.”
Traditionally, the city receives more than $300,000 through the CDBG fund and traditionally uses these funds for park improvements and demolition of unsafe and blighted structures. However, HUD provided additional funds this year to assist in matters directly related to the pandemic.
The city is allocating about $86,000 of these funds to seven organizations that assist those in need, or provide a community-wide impact.
Among the groups that will be receiving funding is Four Rivers Outreach, which operates a substance abuse program near downtown Sherman.
“It has been a challenging year with this covid stuff going around,” said Four Rivers Executive Director Bob Rhoden. “We hope to maintain the same presence we always have.”
During the pandemic, the outreach program limited access to its building and temporarily stopped intakes while putting distancing and other precautions into place.
“We are accepting intakes again, but we are doing them on a case-by-case basis now,” Rhoden said.
While the program has yet to see a positive case of the viral infection, Rhoden said the most direct impact has been to the group’s pocketbook. Traditionally, the program receives funding in part through a thrift store, but the business was closed for more than two months. The shop has since reopened, but sales are still significantly down.
The Boys & Girls Club of Sherman will receive the largest allocation, in the form of $20,000. Executive Director Bryan Partee said these funds will be used to help develop a teen program while also preparing the club to provide distance learning and web-based programming.
When Sherman schools go back into session Partee said the club wants to be prepared for distance learning in case in must continue into the next school year.
We want to be a good partner and be prepared for when this happens,“ he said.
Like Four Rivers, the club closed its doors during spring break as a precaution against COVID-19. It has since reopened, but under reduced capacity.
While the club may be able to hold 250 kids during a normal day, it is currently operating at a capacity of about 150. However, on a normal day it will only see about 60, with 80 paid memberships.
In addition to assisting organizations, the city is allocating $86,720 to emergency assistance programs for residents who make less than 80 percent of the median household income..
“They can receive assistance for housing, mortgage or rent, child care or utilities,” Lawrence said, noting that applications can be filed through the city website.
Despite the program just launching, she said she already expects there to be high demand for these funds. One of the early indicators is the increasing number of delinquent utility accounts within the city.
While traditionally the city would cut off the account after a certain length of time, it has since stopped cut offs and is working with households who are having difficulty paying.
“Those that were delinquent were tagged and the tag said to call the utility department because assistance may be available,” Lawrence said.
With regard to both individual and group assistance, Lawrence said some proof that the expense is related to the pandemic or low-income areas may be required. However, many of the organizations have previous experience working with these type of grants and are familiar with the requirements.
Lawrence noted that given the scope of the pandemic some defacto proof may be acceptable with HUD for these funds.
“If you were doing OK on March 1, and now you are not doing ok, then that is pretty much all the proof they need,” she said.
Some of the organizations already work in areas that are targets for HUD funding and likely already qualify, she said. For others, a spike in demand of services is enough proof.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at email@example.com.