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New London plans for $26 million federal funding windfall

New London — The city administration's plan to use more than $26 million in federal coronavirus pandemic aid over the next three years includes $10.4 million to disproportionately impacted communities, a $2.38 million community policing initiative and a downtown beautification effort. 

The proposal provides funding for a variety of initiatives pitched by various community and nonprofit organizations.

The City Council is treating the proposal as it would a budget, with several meetings and a special public forum planned over the coming weeks to allow for public input before a final vote. The entire 315-page proposal is available on the city’s website.

Monday was the first step in the process and brought numerous community members advocating for their causes.

“This is an opportunity for us to look at the needs of our community and strategize support for those organizations that were really our backbone when we were dealing with this pandemic,” Councilor Reona Dyess said.

The city expects to receive a total of $26.22 million in two installments from the federal American Rescue Plan Act relief package that has provided $350 billion in aid nationwide to address the impacts of the pandemic. The council eventually will vote this year to approve spending for about half of the funds, the $12.6 million it received this year.

To ensure the proposals are eligible for the funding, Finance Director David McBride said the proposed budget line items fit into one of five categories: public health, negative economic impacts, services to disproportionately impacted communities, infrastructure and administration.

The majority of the money, 40% or $10.4 million, would fund services to disproportionately impacted communities. That category includes more than $2 million for a Birth to Age 8 Community Resource Center at B.P. Learned and more than $3 million in housing support initiatives. There is $825,000 for the Southeastern Connecticut Community Land Trust, a nonprofit focused on providing permanently affordable housing and home ownership for low-income families.

The city has proposed spending 30% of the funds, or $7.75 million, to address economic impacts of the pandemic. There is $4.45 million to the Office of Development and Planning for initiatives that include a downtown beautification effort, housing and equity fund, a storefront activation initiative and greenspace improvement.

The proposal sees New England Science & Sailing receiving $1.98 million for a “Students Ahead in Learning Project” that in partnership with New London City Recreation Department would provide a year-round after-school and summer school program for middle school students.

Other beneficiaries would include Immigration Advocacy & Support Center, Hispanic Alliance of Southeastern Connecticut, FRESH New London, Whalers Helping Whalers and Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center. The Immigration Advocacy & Support Center has requested $53,820 to address a spike in its work providing low-cost immigration legal services.

There is $552,000 aimed at providing funding for an initiative that would involved renovations for a building owned by Church of the City to serve as a centralized hub for community services. Church of the City has established an informal partnership with Re-Creation Center and Cultured AF.

Seanice Austin, who led the Health and Human Services subcommittee of the city’s Longterm Recovery Committee, called for a public outdoor fitness space and smart devices in senior housing to help support seniors through telehealth.

Austin asked that the city take seriously the idea of addressing restorative justice issues.

“This past year and a half we spent time addressing racial inequalities, Black Americans being disproportionately affected in all areas. I saw not one single line item to specifically address that group,” Austin said.

The federal guidelines for use of pandemic funds do not specifically address African American needs, she said.

“That’s because in 1872 the Freedman’s Bureau was disbanded,” Austin said. “So, there is no mechanism in the federal government to address a very specific group, those of us who descend from American slavery. New London has a responsibility as a city that profited and benefited from the sale of slaves in our city. We have a responsibility to use some of that money for restorative justice.”

The U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands was created by Congress in 1865 as a relief effort to assist former slaves and impoverished whites in mostly Southern states following the Civil War.

In addition to slavery, Austin said many Black communities lost homes and businesses when Interstate 95 was built and the city was divided.

The city has proposed spending 16% of the funds, or $4.17 million, on public health initiatives. A good portion of those funds would meet requests by the police department. The department has requested $366,423 for installation of public cameras and another $2.38 million for a community policing initiative that would add three to five community wellness officers, a youth investigator, a community service officer, domestic violence response team, recruitment officer, data analyst and other initiatives.

The city has provided $131,119 to Ledge Light Health District, a 1% boost in funding for the agency that has led the COVID-19 mitigation and response efforts.

Mayor Michael Passero on Monday said the plan as presented to the council is subject to any changes as guided by the City Council. He said the budget represents a commitment to the city’s disenfranchised community members.

“We’re hoping to use this opportunity to really make great strides in improving the decades of substantial poverty that has existed in New London," he said. "We believe that will be the most transformative and have the most impact.”

The federal money must be used by Dec. 31, 2024.

g.smith@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the percentage of funds related to disproportionately impacted communities.

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