City considering $1M coronavirus support fund

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The city of Albuquerque could spend $1 million helping low-income and otherwise at-risk populations weather the COVID-19 crisis under a new proposal from City Council President Pat Davis.

The resolution would move unused funding from the City Clerk’s Office to a new “coronavirus community support and recovery fund.” The fund would cover grants and contracts for nonprofits and other organizations that help citizens with food, shelter and other basic needs.

Davis said that while the city works on immediate solutions to the current crisis, it must also consider the community’s long-term needs.

“As more people lose their jobs and start making hard decisions about which bills to pay, we want to ensure that organizations able to provide daily food, health and housing services have the fuel to keep going,” Davis said in an email to the Journal. “And it also opens the door for groups who adjusted their mission to help in a time of crisis to access financial help, even if they have not been a city contractor in the past.”

Organizations would have to apply for funding. An oversight committee made up of two city councilors and the city’s chief financial officer or his designee would evaluate the applications and make funding recommendations, according to the resolution.

The city itself has programs and services to help low-income and at-risk populations. In the past two weeks, the city has distributed nearly 25,000 food boxes to families, and meals to seniors and children. The city’s four Health and Social Services Centers last month helped 27 households with rent through Eviction Prevention Programs, mostly using federal funding.

Though the city does not track how many households sought rental assistance, Bobby Sisneros, a spokesman for the Family and Community Services Department, said existing funding is insufficient.

“Each of our centers operates on a monthly budget that falls well below the need,” he said.

With the pandemic forcing many businesses to close and record numbers of people to apply for unemployment benefits, one prominent nonprofit that works with low-income populations said it has not yet seen a dramatic increase in clients.

However, its CEO expects the need will reveal itself soon.

“Right now, we’re really fighting an illness, and the main battle is in the hospitals and our medical clinics, and it’s on all of us staying home and socially distancing,” said Jim Gannon, CEO of Catholic Charities. “But the economic impact of this will be measured in May and June.”

He noted that many emergency lifelines extended today — such as the current ban on most evictions — are only temporary fixes, and many people will eventually need new sources of help. That could lead them to such organizations as Catholic Charities, which helps about 20,000 people each year with a range of services, including housing assistance. Catholic Charities, in turn, gets a portion of its funding from private contributions, which could also suffer.

“It will be very tight for us,” Gannon said. “It will be very difficult, but we’ll make it happen.”

Gannon said Catholic Charities will look into the city’s emergency fund program should it be approved.

The City Council is set to vote on Davis’ bill Monday.

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