BRISTOL – Local communities are forming committees to determine how best to utilize American Rescue Plan dollars and potentially provide assistance to those businesses negatively impacted by the covid-19 pandemic.
The American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law on March 11, providing a total of $65.1 billion in federal funding to municipalities.
Bristol created a bipartisan task force comprised of members of city boards and commissions and community stakeholders on May 12 to determine how best to utilize the funding. In the meantime, Justin Malley, economic development director, said the plan is to continue making information available on assistance programs offered by the state and federal government.
“There’s definitely an interest on behalf of policy makers in helping businesses negatively impacted during the ongoing pandemic,” he said.
Plainville Town Manager Robert E. Lee and Plymouth Mayor David Merchant have expressed interest in forming similar committees in their communities.
Lee said he will make a recommendation to the Town Council at its Sept. 13 meeting to form a strategic committee.
“American Rescue Plan funding may allow assistance to businesses affected by covid-19, but it’s complicated and confusing legislation,” he said. “It may take a bit of a learning curve to get a handle on. We want to form a committee to determine the best use of this funding, if any, for Plainville. We want to look at all of our options and take time to develop a proper plan instead of just throwing the money out there.”
In Berlin, Chris Edge, director of economic development for the town, said they are focused on pushing the community to support local restaurants and retail, and is planning another “Shopping Local, Eating Local” promotion closer to the holiday season.
“I’m definitely concerned about the businesses,” he said. “I think many of them have taken steps to reach out to their customers and we definitely want to help where we can. There is so much unknown with the (Delta variant) and we definitely want to be supportive of them.”
Edge said the town has worked with restaurants on being able to expand outdoor seating as well.
“We did talk to a number of them and many had gone forward with different outside seating arrangements,” he said. “How that works into the fall and winter, I’m not 100% certain, but we’ll be supportive as we can be with the restaurants with those types of arrangements.”
Cal Hauburger, Plainville’s planning and economic development director, said the town has also put up information on the Economic Development Administration’s partially forgivable revolving loan program on the town website, plainvillect.com.
“That program is for businesses located in and operating inside of town lines since prior to March 1, 2020,” he said. “That is the date used by a lot of state and federal programs.”
Last year, Hauburger also sent out a regular newsletter via email, keeping local businesses informed about state and federal funding and assistance opportunities that were available. While he said this newsletter has come out less frequently since this summer as the state opens back up, it may start to come out more frequently due to the delta variant.
“It depends on what if any assistance the state and federal government offer,” he said.
Those who wish to contact Hauburger to get on this email newsletter can do so at plainvillect.com/people/cal-hauburger.
Merchant said there will be a meeting in the second week of September where the town will decide how it wants to distribute the American Rescue Plan funding.
“That pot of money can also be used to help people that were affected by the pandemic,” Merchant said. “We’re looking forward to coming up with a solution and a plan to help people.”
Merchant said he has heard from several landlords who have had issue collecting rent due to laws prohibiting eviction during the pandemic. He said he wants to look into how he can help.
“It’s not fair to landlords who own houses and rely on rent coming in when their tenants get permission to not pay,” he said. “We need to look out for them and consider how this will affect them as well.”
Southington Economic Development Director Lou Perillo III said he too has heard landlords are struggling.
“All of the funding seems to exempt landlords, the majority of which own less than three of four properties,” he said. “I’ve seen reports arguing that they are being unfairly targeted. There is a debate raging on if housing is a ‘right’ or not.”
This Thursday, the Supreme Court blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from enforcing a federal moratorium on evicting renters during the pandemic.
Perillo said he has also heard concerns from restaurant owners and the Connecticut Restaurant Association is lobbying for more funding.
Perillo said he expects the Economic Development Strike Committee, which is acting as the town’s long-term recovery committee, to begin deliberating when they meet again after Labor Day. If federal programs are unable to provide assistance, he said the committee will try to tackle the problems as needed.
“Going into the winter, we’ve heard that there may be more booster shots available to combat the delta variant,” Perillo said. “I think that’s what on everybody’s mind.”
Jack Benjamin, director of planning & development for the city of New Britain, did not respond to several inquires to be part of this story.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.