Local Response Amplifies CARES Funding

The onset of the Coronavirus crisis caused Capitol Hill to take swift action and approve $2.2 trillion in emergency funding – widely discussed as the CARES Act. Businesses were promised their cut of resources to stay afloat in the form of partially forgivable, low-interest loans. Unemployed individuals were allocated an extra $600 per week in compensation for several months. So, what about the rest of the money? How is it funneled?
 
When it comes to federal dollars, public funding trickles down to a local government branch, non-profit organization, educational institution, or tribe. Every bit of money is scrutinized to determine who gets what, and for what purpose, based upon eligibility criteria and formulas. Believe it or not, that enormous amount of funding will not come close to covering the country’s financial shortfalls. Millions of households are left looking for ways to meet basic needs and that is where boots are needed on the ground – in our communities. The Chamber spoke with a few member organizations to understand how grant money is supporting local efforts. READ MORE…
 
Within Washington, $300 million of CARES Act funding was divided up and dispersed specifically to cities and counties with populations under 500,000 that were ineligible for direct funding. Mason County was allocated $69,480 in support to deploy resources on the front lines. The Mason County COVID-19 Response Fund continues to disperse these dollars to support immediate basic needs related to the health and economic impacts of this pandemic. Those monies are leveraged with gifts made to the fund by service clubs, generous individuals, and economic leaders.
 
The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound (CFSPS) partners with the United Way of Mason County to administer the local program. “The beauty of the Mason County COVID-19 Response Fund is it functions as one coordinated effort to meet needs,” says CFSPS President/CEO Mindie Reule. “There are so many moving parts. The money is disbursed by a committee of five people with strong ties and awareness within the community in different ways.”
 
“During mid-March we asked the board to seed funds in emergency preparation for the shutdown that we all realized was going to happen,” explains Reule. “Over several days, committee members made countless phone calls to area non-profits to determine exactly what their needs were; andlined up corporate partners and individual contributors willing to give anywhere from ten dollars to five figures to supplement CARES Act funds.
 
So far, this fund has provided flexible resources to numerous organizations in our region who work with populations disproportionately impacted by the outbreak. Hood Canal School District is one of the recipients selected to get $3,000 for the purpose of hunger relief. According to Angela Clements, the district is grateful for the financial support it has received and began offering a Summer Food Pick Up for students and their immediate families. Every other Thursday, food boxes are filled with fresh fruit, veggies, eggs, dairy, and canned goods. The boxes are available at the front of the school, until supplies last. A combination of COVID-19 Response funds and partnerships with Hood Canal Food Bank, St. Andrew’s House, and Hoodsport IGA make this program possible. Additional funding from InvestED dollars was used to supply hotspots for families and even some gas cards. Area food banks were allocated funds as was Senior Services for South Sound. Another grant of $10,000 was awarded to Crossroads Housing to specifically prevent several families from falling into homelessness, including rent assistance for households experiencing layoffs. 
 
Non-profit foundations such as CFSPS are common sources of charitable grant funding that help fill the void of insufficient public funding. Essentially, it acts as a trusted clearing house for corporate and individual philanthropists who want to make a difference toward causes that matter to them. “We can never replace government funding for infrastructure or to keep things running,” Reule clarifies. “Instead, we focus on filling the gaps with supplemental funding that is responsive, flexible, and inclusive. My dream is to have a permanent endowment for Mason County that could grow and continue for the future.”
 
Shelton School District landed a $20k grant in June from the WA State Student and Youth Homelessness COVID-19 Response Fund, administered by a collaboration of foundations including Raikes Foundation, Vitalogy Foundation, and Campion Foundation. Betty Uriostegui who serves as homeless liaison coordinator for the district uncovered the opportunity and got permission to apply. For many, schools and community-based organizations are their only lifeline to critical services, meals, housing, stability, and safety. She reports there are approximately 500 homeless and 105 unaccompanied youth that she interacts with as McKinney-Vento Liaison, a role designed to work with families to remove barriers to education.
 
“There are truly more that don’t identify,” says Uriostegui. “The main needs are from families who are not eligible for any federal programs. We have a growing migrant population of Hispanics, many from Guatemala, who are truly vulnerable during this crisis.”
 
Knowing the district would deplete any existing resources, this grant made a huge difference because it is not tied to the same restrictions as federal Title 1 funds. “This grant allows us to do things we are not typically able to do,” emphasizes Uriostegui. “Everyone needs help right now. Whatever barrier they have, we use our funds for that – food, shoes for sports, busing, gas, hygiene products. We have helped every single person who asked in some way. Our goal is to continue help throughout summer.”
 
A statewide survey by Schoolhouse Washington shed light on homeless student needs after receiving responses from 74 school district liaisons, collectively serving 17,000 homeless. The top five needs were: food, mobile hotspots/Internet access, wireless devices (laptops, tables, computers, phones), hygiene supplies, and rental assistance. Each week the Shelton School District is preparing 50-55 boxes of food for families, but initially started with only ten. “Not everybody has the same opportunities in life, and it is hard when you are new to a country looking for a better life,” Uriostegui adds. “Every household should have love and stability, so it’s rewarding to see people walk out of my office with a smile.”
 
“Betty does this job 24/7 and when her cell phone rings with a request, she makes it happen, no matter what time it is,” Kelly Neely, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the district points out. “Betty is an immigrant herself and this is where her heart is. She is very special, and we are so proud of her tireless efforts.”
 
More often than not, acting quickly in emergency situations does not leave time to apply and wait for grant approval. This was the case for Mason PUD 3 when they were asked by the Washington State Broadband Office to step up and support a statewide effort for Drive-In Wi-Fi hotspots in response to the COVID-19 emergency. The purpose was to support distance learning for households without high-speed Internet access at home, especially rural students. The need was urgent because traditional public Wi-Fi access points at the schools, libraries, and coffee shops were closed. Within a couple of weeks of that call, PUD 3 was able to deploy the first of its now 23 free locations in safe places like parks, port districts, fire stations, etc.
 
According to Lynn Eaton, Communications & Government Relations Manager, it is standard operating procedure for a PUD to jump into action immediately and then pursue possible funding sources after the fact. For this project specifically, an application for reimbursement was submitted through the CARES act; however, there has been no confirmation of its approval. While the hotspots were built-out for our local school districts, citizens who need high-speed internet access may also use the Wi-Fi and this access will remain in place long after recovery from COVID-19.


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