Indianapolis councilors approve final $76 million in Cares Act funds

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Indianapolis moved to distribute the remainder of its federal coronavirus relief funding on Wednesday night, draining the remains of its total $168 million in Cares Act money that city officials have repeatedly stressed is not enough to weather Indianapolis through the ongoing pandemic.

The final $76 million continues a variety of public assistance programs while also launching new initiatives — including roughly $7 million in building modifications for the Indiana Convention Center and a foreclosure prevention program. 

 As city leaders  voted to spend the last federal dollars, Mayor Joe Hogsett lamented the lack of action from Washington, D.C. to provide more money.

“No amount of finger-pointing in Washington will make rent for a family in Haughville,” Mayor Joe Hogsett told the city-county council. “No amount of cable news soundbites will put dinner on the table for two young kids in Mars Hill. No amount of tweets will help keep our small businesses afloat. I am not interested in the blame-game in local government.”

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Deontez Boyd, left, poses for a photo with Kerry Boyd, right, while holding his daughter, Kerrysa Boyd, at their home off of South Sherman Drive in Indianapolis, Tuesday, August 4, 2020. Boyd is one of the many people in Indianapolis who are behind on rent due to job layoffs during the coronavirus pandemic.  (Photo: Grace Hollars/IndyStar)

The final allotment comes as the city scrambles to spend remaining money by the end of the year — or face returning it to the federal government. 

The   $7 million the city will set for modifications to the Indiana Convention Center, could also help the facility to potentially become an e-learning environment for Marion County students who have returned to school. 

The board has made significant capital investments to keep the center operational during the public health crisis, during which it has hosted public safety and public health personnel, chief of staff Thomas Cook said in an earlier news briefing on Wednesday.

The money will reimburse the county’s Capital Improvement Board, which owns and operates the convention center, for various improvements — including roughly $80,760 spent enforcing public health orders, $760,000 on sanitation and $3.5 million on touchless hardware, hand sanitizer, plexiglass barriers and other public health amenities, according to a rough breakdown of expenditures from the board.

“In some respects this is as much about setting the table for what we believe economic recovery will be, which is having our convention center host events as soon as we’re responsibly able to do so,” Cook said. 

Another $7.5 million will fund small business assistance grants for the hospitality industry — including restaurants, bars and entertainment venues — that have struggled under the restrictions of public health orders.

 Another $7.5 million will go to the city’s rental assistance program, which has so far taken over 12,000 people off its waiting list but still has another 16,000 households in line for rental help. The program, which now totals roughly $30 million, has been spending roughly $5 million every month, according to Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett. He anticipates the funding will last through December. 

What to know: Details on the Indianapolis rental assistance program

About $7 million will be set aside for a new effort to help residents pay or refinance their mortgages. Details on that program haven’t been announced.

The approval means a total of roughly $26.5 million has been spent in public health investments — including money for masks and contact tracing. Another $26.5 million has gone to economic recovery, including grants for arts institutions and small businesses, while $56.7 million has boosted social services such as rental assistance and food distribution.

The remaining roughly $58.9 million has funded technology and government expenses, including overtime costs.

The city’s Department of Metropolitan Development also received a separate Cares Act allocation of $8.6 million. 

Related: Another effect of the pandemic is more trash at home — tons of it

The pandemic has left the city and other municipalities nationwide scrambling to offer social services as the economy has suffered.

But officials have stressed that the federal funding, while helpful, is not enough to weather the city through the long-term economic effects of the pandemic.

“I don’t think $168 million for a city of roughly one million people that acts as the economic engine for the entire state was ever going to be sufficient,” Cook said in a press briefing earlier on Wednesday. “Especially when we were told it needs to address social services, economic development and public health needs all at the same time.”

Call IndyStar reporter Amelia Pak-Harvey at 317-444-6175 or email her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @AmeliaPakHarvey.

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