The Indio City Council took a step forward Wednesday night as it considers allocating funds to help members of the public pay their delinquent water bills, and to finance rental assistance and business assistance grants for qualifying applicants affected by the state’s ongoing COVID-19 shutdown orders.
Funding for the first two proposed programs would come from the Community Development Block Grant program and the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act). If approved by the Indio council,$110,000 would go toward the abatement of delinquent water bills from Indio Water Authority, and $645,754 would go toward rental assistance.
A separate $645,754, which would come from “unassigned, unallocated” money in the city’s general fund, is proposed to be put toward business grants.
“We have consensus of the majority of the council that we would like to move forward on these three items,” said Mayor Elaine Holmes in Wednesday’s council meeting. “I think time is of the essence, but certainly within the constraints that we have.”
City staff was directed to finalize details on the three programs for the next council meeting later this month. The water bill and rental assistance programs will be presented in the form of a public hearing, followed by a council vote. As for the business assistance program, staff will return with recommendations for eligibility requirements and other criteria.
Several council members stressed the importance of giving a helping hand to businesses and residents who are struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.
“From my perspective, I’d like to throw some folks a lifeline,” Holmes said.
“We may not be able to reach everyone, but we’re reaching some,” said Mayor Pro Tem Waymond Fermon. “And if it’s one month of assisting a business with utilities or rent, it’s going to keep them afloat for one more month, until we get some more funding from our state and federal government.”
Councilmember Lupe Ramos Amith, who was recently re-elected alongside fellow Indio council incumbent Glenn Miller, was concerned that the funding for business grants is comprised of unspent money from Measure X, a voter-approved tax measure.
“(Measure X funds) are specifically for public safety, infrastructure improvements and city services,” she said. “So I wanted to make that very clear. This is not surplus money. This is not checking account money… Eventually we have to pay this money back because it was specifically earmarked in what we sold to the community for a specific project.”
The role of city government is to deliver services, Amith added, not to “subsidize or bail out” businesses or renters.
As outlined in an initial report by Indio’s city manager Mark Scott, the water bill program is proposed to be administered by United Way of the Desert. It could impact 450 to 800 accounts, the report estimated.
The collective action partnership Lift to Rise, meanwhile, has agreed to administer the rental assistance program, and business assistance is proposed to be conducted in-house through city staff, the report said.
Amanda Ulrich writes for The Desert Sun as a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at [email protected].