Here’s how Providence plans to spend $ 42 million in relief money for Biden

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PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – City leaders have put forward a new plan to spend $ 42 million in federal relief funds on a host of items, including summer programs for youth, interventions for homeless people, a reception center in Roger Williams Park and small business relief.

Providence expects to receive around $ 164 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed by President Biden in March, and city hall officials have said they intend to call a task force this summer to help figure out how to spend most of the money.

But even before the task force met, the city council’s finance committee on Thursday evening approved an order to spend now $ 42 million of the funds. Mayor Jorge Elorza helped draft the ordinance.

About $ 19 million of that amount is set aside to make up for lost revenue during the pandemic. The remainder is earmarked for specific projects, including $ 4 million to build a new ‘walkway’ to Roger Williams Park that would include a visitor center, washrooms, self-service bicycle, recreational plaza and space. green.

The new ‘modern, eco-friendly and energy-efficient’ visitor center would be built on a dilapidated property that once housed the El Fogon restaurant, which closed after a fire in 2006.

The total cost of the project is $ 6.6 million, according to city spokesman Ben Smith, including $ 4 million from ARPA funds, $ 1.6 million from the Providence Redevelopment Agency and $ 1 million from dollars from the Rhode Island Housing Acquisition and Revitalization Program.

Elorza had initially offered to spend $ 33 million of federal stimulus funds when he submitted his budget proposal to council in April. But an amended version of the ordinance introduced and passed by the finance committee on Thursday increased the amount of ARPA funding – which is in an ordinance separate from the main budget bill – to $ 42 million.

A public hearing was not held to receive comments on the proposal in committee before its adoption. (However, a public hearing is scheduled for next week to get comments on Elorza’s proposed municipal budget, as required by the city’s charter.)

The Elorza administration has argued that some of the spending approved Thursday night involves a time constraint, as it will be spent on youth programs this summer, including camps, summer jobs and a basketball program. night.

Using $ 1 million in ARPA funds for summer jobs will allow city to raise teenage minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, Elorza policy chief Diana says Perdomo, to the advisers. (The mayor separately proposed a minimum wage of $ 15 for all city employees.)

Other investments for youth included in the bill are $ 1 million for broadband access for youth and families, $ 1 million for early learning infrastructure, $ 1.1 million for a mentoring program, $ 500,000 for non-violence training and $ 1 million for year-round youth jobs.

A breakdown of the proposal indicates that mentoring can reduce chronic school absenteeism and illegal drug use among youth.

In modifying the plan on Thursday, advisers added a $ 7 million program for small business assistance. Details on how this money will be distributed among the companies were not immediately released.

The order would also provide $ 600,000 for public libraries, $ 500,000 for homeless intervention, $ 187,339 for the Providence Center and $ 3 million for street sweeping and sewer repairs.

“The US bailout grant budget, including timely investments in youth, infrastructure, anti-violence initiatives and small business assistance from Providence reflect the priorities of the administration, city council and our community, and are essential to the city’s continued recovery, ”said Ben Smith, Elorza press secretary.

“The city will also soon be setting up a special commission on stimulus funds in which community actors can guide the allocation of ARPA funds to invest more in our community,” he said.

Elorza also offered to allocate $ 300,000 in ARPA funds to WaterFire Providence to get the downtown art installation back up and running after a pandemic hiatus, although this funding was not included in the approved ordinance. Thursday evening.

WaterFire plans to return in September for a shortened season. State lawmakers also allocated $ 375,000 for WaterFire in the state budget which was passed by the House on Thursday night.

The organization plans to rehire staff on leave this summer and to relocate the infrastructure of the Providence River that was removed during a dredging project in 2019.

Peter Mello, chief executive of WaterFire, said the organization got into debt during the pandemic due to the loss of much of its sponsorship funds.

“Not only is it essential to bring WaterFire up this year, but it is essential to our long term sustainability as an organization,” Mello said of the ARPA money.

City treasurer Jim Lombardi, who is also the council’s chief of staff, said providing more funds to the city’s WaterFire might be “too generous” and suggested the state should step in to provide more. funds if necessary.

“This is the first of many orders that I think the board will pass on this,” Lombardi noted.

Councilor Helen Anthony proposed adding WaterFire funding to the ordinance, but no committee member seconded the motion.

The amended version of the ARPA ordinance is now sent to the entire city council.

Steph machado (smachado@wpri.com) covers Providence, Politics and more for WPRI 12. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook





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