Application for COVID relief funds advances

January 20, 2021

Grant funds sought for rental, utility, mental health assistance

The Bartlesville City Council on Tuesday authorized City staff to move forward in applying for COVID-19 relief funds that, it approved by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, could provide assistance with rent, utility and mental health needs for local residents.

Assistant City Planner Nancy Warring outlined plans for the City to apply for Community Development Block Grant – Coronavirus grant funds through the State of Oklahoma during a special meeting Tuesday at City Hall.

Funds available

Warring said the State has a total of $8,072,433 in CDBG-CV funds available to distribute to 18 eligible cities. If divided based on the population percentage, Bartlesville would receive $700,069.

“However, the amount that Bartlesville ultimately applies for will be based on estimated local need,” Warring said. “Staff is working with existing non-profit organizations within the community to prepare these estimates. At this time, staff is looking at preparing an application requesting up to $1 million, based on projected Oklahoma household eviction rates after January 2021.”

Local needs

Warring said need estimates for Bartlesville easily meet the threshold for funds “in excess of $1 million,” with estimates showing that hundreds of low and moderate income workers in Bartlesville have become unemployed due to COVID-19.

“According to the Urban Institute, those hardest hit by COVID-19 job losses are workers in industries like tourism and transportation, which are bearing the brunt of the economic shutdown,” Warring said.

She said Urban Institute has been providing weekly estimates of the number of residents who have lost low income jobs due to COVID-19 and that UI’s last update, dated Jan. 8, estimates that 306 low-income jobs in Bartlesville have been lost due to COVID-19.

Warring said the Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified employment in the following targeted industries as one priority for funding:

  • Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction
  • Arts, entertainment and recreation
  • Accommodation and food services

The City of Bartlesville has selected three areas of assistance in which the grant funds will be used: rental assistance, utility assistance, and mental health assistance. Utility assistance includes assistance for water, gas and electric for individuals who are delinquent on their bills due to the effects of COVID-19.

Rental assistance provides assistance to households who have experienced a loss of income due to COVID-19 for up to six months. And mental health assistance includes supplies and services for mental health in relation to the rise in number of mental health cases, as well as a need to maintain social distancing.

City partners

“To assure that funds are going to those most in need, staff recommends partnering with existing nonprofit organizations in the community which are already serving the low and moderate income population,” Warring said. “By doing so, services provided through this grant can be done on an individual and household level basis. In other words, low and moderate income eligibility will be determined one at a time as services are provided. Therefore, 100 percent of Bartlesville‚Äôs grant funds will benefit low and moderate income persons.”

Warring said quantifying the need for COVID relief services is more difficult to confirm on the local level due to the number of non-profit and faith-based community organizations that provide a variety of assistance programs to the low and moderate income population. However, it is clear that “the need is present and continues to grow in our community,” she said.

“In the Spring of 2020, United Way offered COVID-19 Impact Grants to assist area non-profits. By mid-May, they had received 52 grant requests, and the major area of need was feeding individuals and helping with rent and utilities,” Warring said. “By August, they had distributed $331,000 to nonprofits.

“Agape Mission, which provides on-site prepared meals, indicated that they normally feed around 250 per day. At the end of 2020, that had increased to an average of 350 meals per day. Concern provides emergency food, utility, rent, hotel, and prescription assistance. They noted an increase in the need for emergency lodging due to homelessness issues and an increase in assistance due to power and water shut-offs. They indicated that the majority of people with utility shut-offs stated that COVID was part of the cause. They also said their financial assistance in 2020, which was over $22,000, was double that of 2019.”

Warring said City staff continues to meet with local agencies to quantify Bartlesville’s need for COVID relief and to determine which agencies are best suited to meet the strict requirements of the grant.