The economic development hearing is held at the Berkshire Innovation Center.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. – Residents want to see businesses and workers negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to Pittsfield’s $ 32.4 million allocation in American Rescue Plan Act funds.
That was the priority determined by about 40 people gathered last Wednesday at the Berkshire Innovation Center for a public hearing on economic development uses for ARPA funds. This was the second of four ARPA funds hearings; the first held at Conte’s community school was about social services.
They identified the provision of loans, grants and technical assistance to businesses and self-employed workers adversely affected by the novel coronavirus as the most urgent use of funds through a cell phone investigation.
When asked how COVID-19 impacted the workplace, many participants summed up their experience with “overwhelmed”, “remote work” and “hard to reach people”.
Others said they felt “destroyed” and “traumatized”.
“These are interesting words we can use about business,” said director of community development Deanna Ruffer. “In many contexts, when we try to assess companies, we don’t hear words like ‘destroyed’, we don’t mean ‘slowdown’, ‘reduced resources’ or stressed employees, that is. was therefore a very unusual consequence of our businesses, and many are still feeling the consequences. “
The $ 1.9 trillion American Rescue Act was passed by Congress and enacted in March with the goal of stabilizing the operations of local governments, households, small businesses and other sectors affected by the COVID pandemic -19.
Pittsfield receives $ 32.4 million which is allocated in two parts. The first deposit of $ 16.2 million took place about a month ago, and the second will take place around the same time next year.
Spending commitments must be made by the end of 2024 and funds must be spent by 2026.
The city is also receiving an allocation from the county of $ 8.4 million in two phases. The funds are distributed to communities on a per capita basis as the County of Berkshire no longer has a county administrative structure.
The types of eligible business assistance for which ARPA funds can be used – as identified by the US Treasury – include loans and grants to alleviate financial hardship resulting from the pandemic; loans, grants or in-kind assistance to implement COVID-19 prevention or mitigation tactics; and tactical assistance, advice or other services to aid a business plan, recovery or growth.
Ruffer reviewed the number of federal, state, and local programs that have been put in place over the past year to help businesses, such as the famous Paycheck Protection Program (PPP.)
Although a few reported using PPP loans, the majority of attendees said they received other assistance that was not included in the presentation, including unemployment assistance and a private equity fund through the Boston Foundation.
The City of Pittsfield has invested over $ 900,000 in 120 different awards to businesses in the city and still has funds.
Participants voted “job search assistance” as the least urgent use of ARPA funds.
Some different explanations have been given for this, with one person claiming that it is a “job seekers market”. This has also been attributed to the pandemic giving workers the opportunity to reassess their ideal careers. Many companies have been working under-staffed for months and some have turned to increasing wages and benefits and offering bonuses to attract workers.
But some said the hearing was perhaps less accessible to people in need of employment assistance.
“I might suggest that the very nature of this meeting, the type of people who come to this meeting, the location of this meeting, the accessibility of this meeting, naturally reduces job search assistance, as people who need this help, most are the least likely to be able to attend this meeting, ”said Berkshire Athenaeum director Alex Reczkowski.
“I’m just talking about the library, we’ve had a ton of people who need help with job search help because other agencies that provide that have closed their doors and haven’t had the online resources or other resources needed for this. “
A West Side resident said the name of the hearing may have dissuaded her neighbors from attending.
The group has identified many other business or labor needs related to COVID-19. Similar to the first hearing, the socio-emotional well-being of employees was highlighted due to the stress caused by the pandemic.
The redefinition of basic needs was also repeated in this discussion.
Other areas included transportation, child care, partnerships with community organizations, marketing for businesses, equity in hiring, and the attraction of remote work in the tech sector.
Resident Kamaar Taliaferro asked Mayor Linda Tyer about the details of the advisory board that will be created to guide spending.
The board will be made up of seven to nine community citizens to help refine the focus of ARPA funds based on community feedback gathered over the next two weeks.
Taliaferro asked Tyer if there are currently any criteria for selecting board members.
“I think at the beginning, and certainly as we move forward in this process, I might become more informed, but initially I think of people who have some expertise in some of the areas of eligibility, and to a member in general, someone from the community who represents the community as a whole, ”she replied.
“So I don’t have a job description or set of criteria, I think these forums and the things we’re learning over the next few weeks will inform him as well.”
He also asked how the city will ensure residents of the West Side and Morningside areas are included throughout the process and how their input will be implemented into final decisions.
Ruffer said the city has been working with residents of these neighborhoods for over 45 years through community development block grants funds and will use these communication methods in this situation.
She clarified that the US Treasury does not require funds to be targeted to this population, as a number of different populations are identified as desired targets.
The city encourages city councilors to collect voters’ wishes regarding ARPA funds and pass them on to Tyer. Direct input from residents is also requested.
A housing and neighborhood hearing will be held on Monday, August 23 at 6 p.m. in the cafeteria of the Morningside Community School and a hearing for cultural organizations will be held at the Lichtenstein Center for the Arts on Wednesday, August 25 at 11 a.m. a m
Residents can find more information about ARPA on the city’s website and can submit their comments to [email protected]
Key words: COVID-19, federal funds, public hearing,
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