City’s $1.5M in CARES funding to support utility bill assistance, air-cleaning systems, child care and other programs
photo by: Nick Krug
The City of Lawrence has been awarded about $1.5 million in federal coronavirus relief grants, helping to fund a utility bill assistance program, electronic air-cleaning systems, a campsite for homeless people and child care for working parents.
The federal funding is part of the nearly $25 million that Douglas County received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES. The $1.47 million provided to the City of Lawrence will fund 12 city projects or programs. City Manager Craig Owens said in an email to the Journal-World that the city was eager to begin implementing the projects as part of its ongoing commitment to provide essential services during the pandemic.
“These projects will improve safety and security for our team and the vital work to keep the whole community safe,” Owens said.
The program that received the most funding is a utility bill assistance program. The city provides water, sewer, and trash and recycling collection service citywide, and at the end of July, about 5,200 Lawrence households had past-due utility balances, amounting to $1.35 million in delinquent payments, as the Journal-World previously reported. The city has been awarded $500,000 for an assistance program to help customers with economic hardship due to COVID-19, according to the city’s funding application. The city plans to partner with a local social service agency to assess the degree of economic hardship and eligibility for those seeking to participate in the program.
The programs or projects that received the next-highest levels of funding are a $374,000 campsite for people experiencing homelessness and a $355,000 electronic air-cleaning system for city buildings. The campsite, the location of which has not been determined, will provide access to toilets, showers, laundry facilities and social services for people who are homeless, as the Journal-World previously reported.
The company Global Plasma Solutions provides the air-cleaning system, which uses bipolar ionization that has been proven to kill pathogens over time, including the coronavirus, SARS, tuberculosis, MRSA and E. Coli, according to the application. Such a system is already in use at the city’s Prairie Park Nature Center, and the $355,000 in funding will go toward installing the system in about 20 additional buildings.
The list includes various city buildings used by the public, including City Hall, the Community Health Building, Lawrence Arts Center, Lawrence Public Library, Carnegie Building, Union Pacific Depot, Indoor Aquatic Center and the city’s four recreation centers, according to information provided by city spokesperson Porter Arneill. Other buildings include the city’s five fire and medical stations, the Airport Terminal building, the police headquarters and the South Park Administration Office.
Other programs that received funding provide licensed childcare for the city’s essential workers and the public. The Lawrence school district began its academic year on Sept. 8 with a fully remote program, meaning that school-aged children who would normally be at school during the day are expected to learn from home. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department is running the new programs. Arneill said the CARES program for remote learning for the city workforce opened for registration on Sept. 1, and it started on Sept. 8 at the Indoor Aquatics Center. He said the other program, which has not yet begun enrollment, will be open to children participating in the Individualized Education Program, or IEP, as that was identified as one of the greatest needs in the community.
The city received $70,300 total for staff, supplies and other expenses for the two programs, made up of $49,700 for child care for the city’s essential workforce, $12,500 for the general public, and $8,100 for staff time to monitor remote-learning classrooms. The city states in its application that such a program for city staff is necessary to ensure the continuity of city operations given that essential government employees with school-aged children will likely lack child care due to the school district operating under remote learning. The application states the program for the public will benefit resource-limited parents whose jobs and other responsibilities limit their child care capacity amid remote learning and the Boys & Girls Club reduced slots.
“There will be parents that are unable to be home with school aged children and their education is likely to suffer,” the application states. “Having a space inside a Parks and Recreation classroom/facility with Wi-Fi that allows children a safe space to learn on their personal devices serves a community need, especially for those without other options.”
Other city CARES funding that directly supports the public includes $51,320 for a laptop and Wi-Fi hotspot lending program at the Lawrence Public Library, $42,000 for the community food pantry Just Food and $12,770 for downtown hand sanitizer stations. Additional funding for city programs and employees includes $27,619 to continue a program that monitors the city’s sewage for the prevalence of coronavirus, $26,281 for personal protective equipment for city employees, and $8,560 for trailers to provide more separated workspace for the city’s Municipal Services and Operations workers.