Financial relief for over $10 million for renters and business owners within the hospitality industry is headed to Lebanon County.
Lebanon County Commissioners approved Thursday during their bi-weekly meeting those two funding requests and also agreed to a rental lease for a mass vaccination site at the former Kmart store, located in the 1700 block of Quentin Road in North Cornwall Township. A fourth approval will secure a still-to-be-determined amount of funding for the county to fight the uptick in domestic violence cases caused by the pandemic.
Samuel Ortiz, Administrator, Lebanon County Community Action Partnership (CAP) said the county will receive over $9.32 million for rental relief, administrative costs, and case management. Ortiz noted that $8.47 million is designated for housing assistance, $466,288 for administrative costs, and $381,424 is earmarked for case management.
Applications will be accepted beginning Monday, March 8 at lebanoncountyrenthelp.com. Individuals who do not have computer access can apply in person at the CAP office located at 503 Oak Street, Lebanon, and via community outreach that will occur soon at various locations, Ortiz added.
The new relief program permits landlords to apply for up to 12 months of relief for rental payments in arrears dating to March 13, 2020 with those monies being distributed in one lump sum. Moving forward, additional payments will be available but must be submitted in three-month increments through the end of the program, which expires on Dec. 31, 2021.
In answering a question for Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz, Ortiz said it is preferred that landlords apply but noted that landlords are required to get their tenants to sign off before they submit their application.
(Editor’s Note: Although not discussed during the meeting, landlords and tenants are asked to communicate and that only application per household be submitted to CAP. A landlord must get a tenant to sign off, or, in the case of a tenant applying for relief, tenants need to submit information for their landlord on their application so that only one application per household applies for rental relief.)
Ortiz said this new program was designed to be more “user-friendly” compared to the first rental relief program that was administered by the Pennsylvania Housing and Finance Agency. That program, he noted, contained too many barriers that prevented people from participating in it.
After Commissioner Robert Phillips asked and was told that the county will have spending oversight, just like the commissioners did with the CARES Act funding last year, Phillips said this will be a “huge undertaking” for CAP.
“You have assembled an expanded team to deal with it (disbursing the funding),” Phillips said. “And it will require the best of all of you for quite a few months to get relief to the folks who are in peril right now.”
The commissioners also approved receiving $1.6 million in federal funding as part of the newly created COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP). In accepting the funding, the county also designated Lebanon Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), as a certified agency, to administer the program.
To receive funding, hospitality-related businesses must have had at least a 25-percent reduction in revenue and not received relief via other coronavirus-related federal assistance programs, including the Payroll Protection and Small Business Administration loan programs, among others.
CHIRP applications will be accepted starting March 15, and will be time-stamped on a rolling basis through June 15 or until funding has been expended, whichever occurs first. Funding will be awarded at a minimum of $5,000 per application and a maximum of $50,000 with payments occurring in $5,000 increments.
“We are grateful to receive this funding and to be able to spread these monies out to help Lebanon County businesses,” said Susan Eberly, president and CEO of LVEDC.
A rise in domestic violence, which has occurred on a nationwide basis in the wake of the pandemic, according to a national study, has led to the federal government providing funding to state-based domestic abuse agencies to address the surge in the number of domestic violence cases.
The office of Domestic Violence Intervention for Lebanon County (DVILC), as a member of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV), is eligible to receive this CARES Act-based funding, according to Mike Ritter, Deputy Director, DVILC.
Lebanon County is eligible to receive a portion of the $16 million designated to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania via an Emergency Solutions Grant, according to Ritter. Ritter requested county certification from the commissioners so that Lebanon County can be a subrecipient of the statewide grant allocation.
“Overall, through its state allocation, Pennsylvania is receiving $16 million, and PCADV is requesting $6.2 million from that,” Ritter said.
Ritter said the funding is specifically focused on helping those individuals who are fleeing domestic violence, sexual assault and/or human trafficking that resulted as part of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Part of the reason PCADV ultimately decided to pursue this is, according to them, is that 80 percent of homeless persons nationwide have violence in the home as a contributing factor to that homelessness,” Ritter told the commissioners. “And we’ve seen nationwide, domestic violence hotline calls increase by 120 percent since the pandemic started at about this time last year.”
While Ritter was uncertain how much funding the county will receive, it will be used for shelter operations, hotel lodging for clients when the shelter reaches its COVID-restricted capacity and as hazard pay for front line crisis workers who are in direct contact with the people they are assisting.
In the final COVID-19-related transaction, the commissioners signed a four-month lease beginning Thursday to establish a mass vaccination site once more vaccines become available for distribution.
The lease for the 12,000-square-foot building at 1745 Quentin Road – which has previously housed Kmart and Spirit Halloween stores – is for $60,000. It was noted that the lease funding payment will be reimbursed by the federal government, and that the lease will rollover on a monthly basis once the initial agreement expires on June 30, 2021.
Bob Dowd, Director, Emergency Management Services, said the county’s sole responsibility is site management with WellSpan Health and eventually other interested healthcare providers responsible for operating the vaccination sites.
“We are working to secure a number of providers in addition to WellSpan, who is already onboard,” said Dowd. “It will be slow to start since we don’t have the supply needed to make this a mass vaccination site. Once we are ready to open, it will be for a few days a week to start with the long-term goal of operating 14 hours per day, six days a week at full capacity.”
Commissioner Ames said he was opposed to the agreement, in general, because there was no verbiage absolving the county from liability if a patient or their family gets ill from the vaccine or were to die after receiving their vaccination.
After Dowd pointed out that no vaccine-related deaths have occurred, Ames quickly retorted that wasn’t his point. He wants to ensure that the county does not face any liability issues since the county, in people’s minds, will be linked as the host of the inoculation site.
In other county business not related to the pandemic, the commissioners approved a resolution condemning all forms of hate, racism, bigotry and racially motivated violence in Lebanon County.
The resolution was sought by some residents of North Cornwall Township who believe a neighbor was targeted politically and racially for signage supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and the teachings of Martin Luther King.
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