2017-04-21 / Front Page

City allocates federal grant money

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — Four service organizations in South Portland are in line for part of $412,033 in federal grants that also will go toward bus passes, recreation scholarships and other city needs.

On April 3, the city council unanimously approved its annual application for Community Development Block Grants as recommended by a seven-member committee made up of residents.

“We’re not sure what the allocation will be, so we’re moving forward on the assumption it will be flat-lined,” said Assistant City Manager Josh Reny.

The money comes from South Portland’s share of Community Development Block Grants funds allocated to Cumberland County by the federal department of Housing and Urban Development. According to Councilor Claude Morgan, an agreement was hammered out 11 years ago that brought South Portland under the county umbrella, even though the city was “doing quite well” securing Community Development Block Grants dollars on its own.

Because Community Development Block Grants money is designated in large part to help low-to-moderate income families though direct aid and economic development, the county “needed our demographics,” in order to secure the maximum slice of the pie, Morgan has explained in the past.

“The deal was that in order to join the county, we said we have to make out better than we do now,” Morgan said.

The result was an agreement that each year South Portland will get 23 percent of whatever Community Development Block Grants funds are allocated by Cumberland County to the city of Portland. However, with South Portland’s lower income residents thrown into the pot, the county ends up getting a larger grant, which it can then distribute county wide.

“The result is that someplace like, say, Harrison, can now get a playground that it would not have otherwise been able to afford,” Morgan said.

However, while South Portland gets a large grant that it used to when applying for Community Development Block Grants funds independently, only 15 percent of the Portland set aside is allowed by HUD to go directly to service groups, while up 20 percent can be used for city costs to administer the program. The rest is given to public facilities, infrastructure projects, and housing.

Of the $412,033 requested in Community Development Block Grants dollars, $50,000 is slated to go to city hall for administering the funds, while the Greater Portland Council or Governments would get $15,000 to prepare an outdoor recreational needs assessment of the city’s west end.

Requests that would be funded this year if funding is awarded as expected include:  Family Crisis Services – $5,000 to provide aid to victims of domestic violence

 The Opportunity Alliance – $17,500 to run the Redbank resource hub

 The Southern Maine Agency on Aging – $10,000 to continue its Meals on Wheels program for area seniors

 The South Portland Food Cupboard – $10,000 to help cover increases in need.

The food cupboard had asked for $20,000, as did the Opportunity Alliance.

Nearly 20 years old, the food cupboard provides free groceries to more than 600 people each month. Until four years ago it operated rent-free out of the now closed St. John Church. After moving into new space at 130 Thadeus St., which provided greater storage and operational space, the food cupboard ended up with operating and leasing costs of $2,000 per month that it did not have before. The Food Cupboard also expects to hire its first paid pantry director this year, further increasing its operating costs.

Meanwhile, with more than 80 percent of households in the Redbank neighborhood living in a low-to-moderate income condition, “The Hub” works to promote neighborhood and community connections with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of vulnerable families and child abuse cases. Community engagement opportunities created by the Hub include a summer breakfast program, a neighborhood connection night, a neighborhood farmers market, a weekly bread bank, English classes, after school activities, and resources and referrals to social services.

The largest part of the funding available for the city ($270,288) would go toward scaled-back upgrades to the Redbank Community Center, and other West End public facility needs, after the city council declined to move forward with a planned $1.37 million physical expansion of the center as part of this year’s annual budget.

Also on the CDBG docket are:

 $7,300 to provide scholarships to cover recreation program fees for low and moderate income youth

 $5,500 to go into the city’s emergency heating assistance program

 $6,505 to offer free bus passes to low income residents

 $15,000 to help with emergency home repair needs of the city’s poorest homeowners.

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