Haverhill is using federal money to cover costs related to the pandemic — from providing nearly $1 million in Chromebooks to students forced into remote learning to paying rent for residents suffering financially due to COVID-19.
The city received $5.6 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money from the federal government, and has so far spent $4.2 million, leaving $1.4 million still available. The money can only be spent on COVID-19 related expenses that weren't budgeted for, city officials said.
"The CARES Act is one of the most incredible things we've seen recently," said Andrew Herlihy, the city's division director of community development. "Nationwide, this is more than a $1.2 trillion dollar program."
Herlihy said the available money won't pay for everything and that the School Department alone took a large portion of what Haverhill is receiving.
"Schools themselves could wipe out most of this money with the costs they are dealing with," he said, adding that he recently submitted a request for an additional $700,000 to pay for window replacement and repairs to HVAC systems in schools.
The Haverhill YMCA received money in support of its remote learning program.
Tracey Fuller, director of the Haverhill and Plaistow YMCAs, said she hired additional staff to support more than 180 Haverhill students who attend the YMCAs daily and receive help in completing their classroom work, navigating Zoom calls with teachers and participating in enrichment activities.
"We're grateful to the city of Haverhill for its support in providing a safe program for children during these uncertain times to be able to learn, grow and thrive at the YMCA," Fuller said. "These students are able to continue to learn while their parents and grandparents can continue to work."
While the federal grant money is intended to protect city government from the burden of extraordinary and unbudgeted costs due to the virus, Herlihy said there is an opportunity to spread that money outside the walls of City Hall and into the community.
The mayor has certain priorities for the money, Herlihy said, including combating hunger and warding off a possible "crush" of evictions that could lead to homelessness.
"We've used CARES Act money for an active rental assistance program that our department is running," Herlihy said, explaining the money has been used to help 80 families by stabilizing their housing situation, with another 80 to 100 families in line for assistance.
Herlihy urged residents who have been directly affected by COVID-19 and have fallen behind in their rent to apply for up to $5,000 in rental assistance her household, which can be done on the city's website — cityofhaverhill.com.
"We're looking to help get people who were impacted by COVID-19 to get back on their feet and stabilize," Herlihy said about the rental assistance program, stressing it is not intended to help people who are chronically behind or don't pay their rent for months.
Testing for the virus is also a priority, especially tests for senior citizens in housing complexes such as Merrivista, with the cost of testing being reimbursed through the CARES Act, Herlihy said.
He said the CARES Act will also pay for more than $40,000 in sanitation equipment and PPE supplies used at polling locations for the primary election in September, with additional money to help make polling locations safe during the presidential election.
"All of the city's CARES Act money will be put to good use," Herlihy said about the remaining money available.
According to numbers provided by city officials, here's how Haverhill spent CARES money so far:
Rental assistance: $160,000
Meals for public during lockdown: $60,000
Communicating virus rules to public: $254,000
Food pantries: $225,000
Shelter/homelessness assistance: $200,000
Meals from school district for families : $225,000
Chromebooks for students: $900,000
Remote learning support: $1 million
Communication devices for public safety/health: $428,000
Disinfecting places the public visits: $1.5 million
Personal Protective Equipment: $578,000
Overtime for health workers, police, firefighters: $800,000