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City looks for partner to run assistance program

by David Showers | January 11, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.
Hot Springs City Hall is shown on May 26. - Photo by Richard Rasmussen of The Sentinel-Record

Today is the deadline to respond to the city's request for proposals to administer $126,825 in federal funds the Hot Springs Board of Directors allocated for rent and utility assistance.

The RFP the city issued last month solicited proposals from nonprofit groups interested in overseeing the disbursement of the funds, money Deputy City Manager Lance Spicer said is urgently needed by those who've borne the brunt of the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

"That's probably been one of the larger cries for help that we've heard from our nonprofits: utility assistance and also rent assistance to keep people from being evicted," he said. "We're trying to put things in good order, so we can have that money out there and available."

The assistance will come from the $572,399 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding the city received by way of being one of HUD's more than 1,200 entitlement cities. According to the RFP, rent and utility assistance will be limited to city residents with household incomes less than 80% of the area median income. The 2020 HUD income limit for a family of four is less than $49,950, according to the RFP.

Eligibility is also conditioned on verifying an economic hardship caused by the pandemic.

"There is a looming unmet need for rent and utility subsistence payments to prevent homelessness," the RFP said. "Many CDBG-eligible households are experiencing financial or medical hardship as a result of COVID-19, leaving them unable to pay current or back rent and utility bills coming due. ... Homelessness prevention has been identified as our community's greatest unmet need that our CDBG CV-1 funds can address."

Spicer said the city expected to receive multiple proposals, noting that Ouachita Behavioral Health and Wellness, Cooperative Christian Ministries and Clinic and Spa Area Independent Living Services participated in the virtual informational meeting the city held last week.

According to the RFP, applicants would be limited to three months of assistance. It could be applied to past-due payments but not late fees. The contractor would be required to randomly verify a minimum of 20% of eligibility certifications submitted by applicants.

Spicer said that the city is finalizing an agreement with Arkansas Foodbank to distribute $50,284 for a public feeding program paid from the city's CDBG coronavirus relief funding. The food bank was the only group to respond to the RFP the city issued last year.

Spicer said local nonprofits will be given food credits the food bank will redeem with the city.

"The entities will be given food credits that will then be paid back with CDBG funds," he said. "The food bank will take those credits and bill that toward the CDBG funds."

The city board last week allocated $317,926 from the city's CDBG coronavirus funds to acquire a quarantine shelter for the homeless and low-income residents.

"Within the city of Hot Springs there are no quarantine shelter facilities for the homeless or others unable to afford accommodations away from their household," the request for board action said. "Should these individual(s) require quarantine shelter the closest facility is in Little Rock, and since they serve the entire state space is not guaranteed."

The request said a real estate professional will be solicited to find a public or private building or land where a facility could be built.

"When a suitable location has been identified, it is anticipated that any or all unallocated prior year CDBG funds and available fiscal year 2021 funds, less necessary grant administrative costs, would be allocated to the purchase and/or construction/rehabilitation of a quarantine/shelter, as needed," the request said.

The request said the facility could be sold at fair market value, or used for another eligible purpose, after the pandemic ends. Proceeds from the sale would be returned to the city's CDBG program.

Garland County isn't eligible for CDBG funds, but it received $2.35 million in CARES Act funding from the $150 million the state set aside for cities and counties from its $1.25 billion in CARES Act money. The Garland County Quorum Court appropriated $60,000 last month for rent, utility and food assistance from the county's share of city and county funding.

County Judge Darryl Mahoney issued a $30,000 contract for services last month with the Community Service Office of Hot Springs and Garland County to distribute the rent and utility assistance. The county's $10,354 annual contract for services with CSO supports the nonprofit's emergency services budget, which, according to the contract, provides funds for temporary lodging, prescriptions, emergency dental and other basic needs.

Mahoney issued a $30,000 contract for services to Jackson House to distribute the food assistance. He said the county didn't solicit proposals to manage the assistance programs.

"The Jackson House does so many good things for our community and really stretch a dollar pretty far," he said. "In talking with Janie Smith from the Jackson House she said the restaurants have not produced a lot of extra food this year. They were normally donating to the Jackson House anything they didn't use. That really hasn't happened this year. I'm proud we were able to help."

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