LEWISTON — Officials are planning substantial relief programs aimed at housing and economic development after its allotment of Community Development Block Grant funding increased by more than $500,000.

The City Council discussed the proposal Tuesday, which if approved early next month, would make funds available May 6.

According to Lincoln Jeffers, director of Economic and Community Development, the funding would help create a local program for rental and mortgage assistance, grants for small businesses and additional funding for local nonprofits such as Trinity Jubilee Center.

The additional funding, recently approved through the federal CARES Act, is aimed at addressing issues related to the pandemic. Because Lewiston is considered an “entitlement community” under the CDBG program, it’s eligible to receive the $538,518 in extra funds.

The city was set to receive roughly $900,000 this year before the additional funding was approved.

Jeffers said tenants and homeowners who are income qualified — making 80% of area median income or less — could receive up to $1,000 for rent or mortgage payments. Payments would go directly to the landlord or mortgage lender. The proposal would also provide up to $500 for a period of three months for utility payments.

Applications would go through the city’s General Assistance office. Jeffers added that the grant money would pay for an additional staff member due to the General Assistance office currently seeing a “significant increase” in new cases.

Jeffers said funds meant to assist the local economy would be used for “enterprise” grants of up to $15,000 for local businesses.

“I think this is going to make a big difference for a lot of our community members,” Mayor Mark Cayer said Tuesday.

In order for the funds to become available, officials must approve changes to Lewiston’s CDBG master plan and public participation plan, which are required as part of the process.

“We are working to try to make this funding available as quickly as possible,” a City Council memo states.

City Administrator Ed Barrett said the changes, plus the funding approval, will appear on the next City Council agenda. In the meantime, he said, officials must come up with ways to get the word out on the new coming relief programs, and encourage people to apply early.

As the pandemic continues to impact local government, the Lewiston Police Department is also pursuing grant funding that could offset department expenses related to the health crisis.

The City Council signed off on an application Tuesday for a U.S. Department of Justice grant for “coronavirus emergency supplement funding” that could pay for personal protective equipment, overtime, hiring, or other expenses related to the pandemic.

Police Chief Brian O’Malley said Tuesday that the department may also be able to use the funds to reimburse recent expenses to pay for hotel rooms for officers awaiting results of COVID-19 tests.

He said Lewiston qualifies for the $85,000 grant because it has previously received Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grants, and if approved, could receive the funds within the next month.

According to a council memo, the funds awarded under the program “must be utilized to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus.”

Allowable purchases can also include supplies such as gloves, masks and sanitizer, and training and travel expenses, “particularly related to the distribution of resources to the most impacted areas.”

The council unanimously approved the application.


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