NEW ALBANY — Feeding schoolchildren, aiding families with utility bills and assisting local businesses in adapting to the changing marketplace are the three ways the New Albany Redevelopment Commission decided Tuesday to spend some of its federal COVID-19 funding.
New Albany was awarded $396,000 in additional Community Development Block Grant funds. The federal money is designated for COVID-19 expenses, and the commission amended its CDBG plan by a unanimous vote to provide $100,000 to the New Albany Township Trustee’s office, $35,000 for Blessings in a Backpack and to partner with the Purdue University Center for Regional Development on an economic gardening initiative.
Township trustees assist those in need with basic necessities, and New Albany Redevelopment Director Josh Staten said the $100,000 will be earmarked for utility and internet bills. With people working from home and schools using virtual learning, access to internet is important, Staten said, which is why it was included in the amended plan.
“I know the trustee’s office has been working incredibly hard to help those who have been struggling right now,” Staten said.
Blessings in a Backpack is a program through the New Albany-Floyd County School Corp. that provides food for kids in need. Elementary schoolchildren are given a backpack with food to take home over the weekend.
“We do have a lot of kids that the only meal they get is at school, and if we’re able to provide them with meals over the weekend, that helps tremendously,” said Elaine Murphy, president of the NA-FC school board.
The economic gardening partnership is an initiative that is new to New Albany. According to the National Center for Economic Gardening, the program “provides strategic research and frameworks to help local companies scale up, adding jobs and wealth to the community.”
Through the pilot program, the redevelopment commission will sponsor four local businesses in a partnership with Purdue. Staten said more information about the initiative will be released in the coming weeks, and once businesses are selected after an application process, Purdue will be in charge of administering the program.
Commission members said they supported the additional CDBG efforts because they cover a variety of needs.
“All of these items I think are very targeted in terms of producing a direct outcome,” said commission member Adam Dickey.
New Albany City Councilman Jason Applegate, who is also one of five members on the commission, echoed Dickey’s statement.
“I appreciate that we’re looking at kids and individuals and also the business side. I think that’s a well-rounded approach to this,” he said.
All three uses of the additional CDBG funding are important on their own merits, Mayor Jeff Gahan said after the meeting.
The trustee’s office has a lot of latitude when it comes to addressing the needs of low-income or struggling families, he said.
“This quickly moves resources to those who are the most vulnerable,” Gahan said.
“Additionally, the Blessings in a Backpack has been a big favorite for many of the students and parents. This is a great opportunity to continue that and to replenish their resources quickly.”
The economic gardening initiative should also help some local businesses, he continued.
“I love these kinds of programs where various groups can come together and partner to help encourage businesses,” Gahan said.
There’s also more relief on the way in New Albany.
On Sept. 11, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced additional CDBG funding through the CARES Act. New Albany will receive another $192,305 through the allotment.
Staten said during Tuesday’s meeting that potential uses for that money are still being considered.
In a news release announcing the allocation, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said the funding is designated for areas where households may be facing higher risk of eviction.
“The Trump administration has maintained that no one should risk losing their home due to the coronavirus,” Carson said. “These funds can help households struggling to meet their rental or mortgage obligations to stay afloat as our nation continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.”