WATSONVILLE—The City of Watsonville will use a little more than half a million dollars of federal funding to bolster the community’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
The City will dish $200,000 to Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Cruz County to support its county-wide efforts during the shelter-in-place order.
It will also endow El Pajaro CDC and the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County (CAB) with $130,000 and $100,000, respectively, to buoy businesses and homeowners who have been stretched thin during the crisis.
In addition, it will spend $25,187 to expand internet access for students attending classes from their homes during the shelter-in-place order.
The remaining $88,797 will be used for staffing and planning.
The City Council unanimously approved those allocations at its Tuesday afternoon meeting.
The cash comes from the city’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), a pool of federal funds that are used to benefit low- and moderate-income housing, prevent and eliminate blight or address urgent community needs.
“Which is what we have now,” Watsonville Housing Manager Carlos Landaverry said.
The $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) is expected to grant Watsonville $443,984 in CDBG funds to address COVID-19 related issues. City staff also reallocated $100,000 of unused CBDG funding from its 2019 plan.
Landaverry said the city will receive another similar round of federal funding at the start of next fiscal year, and added that any leftover cash can be rolled over into another round of aid for the city’s residents.
Watsonville City Manager Matt Huffaker said the Food Bank since March has spent roughly $780,000 above its “baseline” to meet the extraordinarily high-demands of the community during the shutdown. During that time it has distributed about 1.8 million pounds of food on top of its usual allocations—its website states the agency typically distributes 8 million pounds annually.
“We really can’t overstate how significant the need is right now in our community for food access,” Huffaker said.
The Food Bank since the start of the shelter-in-place order in mid-March has held food distributions on Fridays, alternating between the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Organizers say they feed roughly 3,000 families at each distribution.
MICRO/SMALL BUSINESS ASSISTANCE
The funds set aside for the city’s businesses will be prioritized for those that did not apply for or were denied access to the Paycheck Protection Program, a $349 billion bill included in the CARES Act.
El Pajaro CDC will serve as the grant administrator, Huffaker said. The grassroots nonprofit for the last 40 years has helped several prospective business owners get off the ground, but the organization will help businesses old and new survive through the current shut down through this new grant program.
“The idea is to help small businesses in Watsonville with financial assistance,” Landaverry said.
Landaverry said he hopes to start taking applications sometime early next week.
The city’s program will supplement CAB’s already existing rental assistance program, which helps protect residents from evictions and foreclosures. It will prioritize farmworkers, victims of domestic violence, families with children, single people with disabilities and those 60 and older.
“The way we envision the program is to include a payment for rent that will go directly to the landlord,” Landaverry said. “We’re also including paying for hotel or motel stays for emergency housing assistance…We’re partnering with our nonprofits but the city will be doing a lot of this work. We will be monitoring how this money is spent.”
A representative from CAB during the meeting said the funds will help roughly 50 households stay afloat during shut down.