‘Tens of millions’ coming for Mesa virus relief The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

‘Tens of millions’ coming for Mesa virus relief

‘Tens of millions’ coming for Mesa virus relief

By Jim Walsh, Tribune Staff Writer

Mesa expects to receive “tens of millions of dollars’’ in federal aid from the CARES Act, the $2 trillion relief package Congress passed last month to assist residents and businesses reeling from the recession stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mesa and four other large governments in Arizona that serve populations of 500,000 or more are first in line to receive their share of $2.8 billion allocated to Arizona from the act’s Coronavirus Relief Fund.

And all that money will be used to aid residents and businesses, since it can’t be used to fill revenue gaps for governments that result from sharp decline in revenue caused by business closures.

Overall, the CARES Act allocates $139 billion to states, counties and cities to deal with the economic consequences of layoffs and business closures.

Mesa, Phoenix and Tucson – along with Maricopa and Pima Counties – will receive their relief directly from the U.S. Treasury, with these five governmental entities receiving 45 percent of Arizona’s allocation, Mesa Assistant City Manager Scott Butler said.

The remaining 55 percent of CARES Act funding will be funneled through the Arizona state government, which will decide how it will be spent, he said.

“We are going to be receiving tens of millions of dollars, that’s for certain,’’ Butler said.

The millions in additional federal aid comes atop $4.6 million in additional Community Development Block Grant funding that is tied to specific purposes, such as affordable housing and aiding the homeless.

Although the exact amount of CARES Act funding was not known as of Thursday’s Council study session, City Manager Chris Brady said he is hopeful that it can be used to address a broader range of needs beyond CDBG’s purpose of assisting low- and moderate-income residents.

Mesa officials are planning to distribute the federal aid to non-profit agencies and to businesses from the federal relief fund as quickly as possible.

The urgency in focusing on the essentials of daily life became clear when the new Mesa Cares program, staffed by 100 city employees, called 3,500 residents and representatives of community organizations in three days, reaching 2,500 of them.

“There is definitely a loss of jobs in our community. People are wondering how they are going to pay their bills,’’ Assistant City Manager Kari Kent said.

She said many Mesa businesses also need assistance to remain solvent as they experience a sharp drop in income.

“They need access to loans and cash. Some of these businesses have never applied for a loan before,’’ Kent said. “Many of these businesses have closed and they really don’t know if they will be able to open.’’

The need only continues to grow – especially after a related federal program offering low-cost loans to pandemic-stricken businesses ran dry last week.

Kent said residents are concerned about having enough food to feed their families, making rent payments and not having their utility service shut off.

United Food Bank’s Help Yourself program has been serving more than 2,000 people a week every Friday morning in a drive-thru format at the Mesa Convention Center, where long lines of cars and trucks wind around the building.

Food bank President/CEO Dave Richins said that before COVID-19, United Food Bank was serving about 500 families a week at the Friday events; now, it serves about 2,200 a week

“We think we are serving the surge related to unemployment,’’ Richins said. “A lot of them are telling us, ‘I just got laid off, I just lost my job.’’

Richins said United Food Bank is planning to ask the city for federal funds to create more storage for food. He anticipates that his present warehouse will be full in May.

“We have plenty of food. The supply chain is intact,’’ Richins said.

Mayor John Giles said the city needs a plan to distribute the federal funds to non-profit agencies and businesses as quickly as possible. Brady said he plans to deliver such a plan to Council this week.

“It seems people’s primary concerns are for their basic needs: food, utilities and rent,’’ Giles said. “The priority of this council is to rescue people from going into homelessness.’’

“I don’t want to leave the impression that we are waiting for the federal government to show up and solve everything,’’ he said. “We can’t wait to have a plan. We need to build this airplane while we are flying it.’’

In some cases, Mesa will allocate the federal funds to non-profits for distribution to needy people, Brady said.

In other instances, the city might launch new programs of its own and distribute funds to assist residences and businesses. Anyone in need of assistance is asked to contact the Mesa Cares outreach program by calling 480-644-CARE.

Late last week, the city announced another new program to help businesses learn how they can apply for assistance.

The Mesa CARES Business Assistance Center will act as a link to information and assistance for businesses needing access to financial support programs and resources.

“We are committed to doing all we can to help our citizens and businesses weather this storm,” Giles said in a release.

 The Mesa CARES Business Assistance Center will assist local  businesses with questions regarding federal, state and local programs and will provide guidance through the application processes for the various CARES Act financial programs.

 “We are here to help our businesses,” Mesa Economic Development Director Bill Jabjiniak said. “We will do all we can to provide the information and guidance to help our businesses get through these tough times.” 

The new Mesa CARES Business Assistance Center can be reached by calling 480-644-6958 or 480-644-3964, emailing EconomicDevelopmentInfo@mesaaz.gov, or visiting SelectMesa.com/MesaCARESbusiness. 

“We are going into this with the philosophy that we want to do as much as we can for businesses,’’ Brady said.

Federal regulations also prohibit local governments from using any Cares Act funding to compensate for lost revenues stemming from the COVID-19 recession – such as drop in sales tax revenue that is expected to force Mesa into laying off employees.

With Mesa selected as one of 171 large governments nationally to receive direct funding from the CARES Act, “cities like ours are the envy of the rest of the country,’’ Giles said, but even the federal bounty has its limits.

“It seems like a good news, bad news scenario,’’ Giles said. “It seems like we will be on an austerity plan in some respects and figuring out how to spend all of this money on the other.’’

 Brady said this dilemma is one reason he is trying to be creative. In an attempt to save the jobs of employees who might be subject to layoffs, through no fault of their own, Brady said he has offered to assign them to non-profit agencies and to Mesa Public Schools.

Brady is hoping the salaries of these employees can eventually be covered by federal funds for economic relief from the COVID-19 related recession.

But Brady added that Mesa is not sure if this arrangement will be endorsed by the federal government.

He said Mesa has to be careful in spending the money properly to avoid the risk of being audited a year from now and being forced to refund some of the money.

“We want to make sure we don’t have to give a dime back,’’ Butler said. γ

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