Mammoth Council approves $750,000 in Assistance
In the 1980s, Rolaids, a maker of antacids, sponsored Major League Baseball’s Fireman award for top relief pitcher.
How do you spell relief?
How do you spell relief from Covid in December, 2020?
Mammoth Lakes Town Council unanimously approved a proposed $750,000 funding allocation for local assistance programs on Tuesday night, providing much-needed relief for beleaguered business owners headed towards a second, widespread stay-at-home order.
This comes after the state announced new Covid-19 guidelines to combat the spread of disease, which separates all California counties into one of five regions. If the ICU bed capacity in any region falls below 15%, a new stay-at-home order goes into effect and additional businesses must close their doors. That order went into effect for the Southern California region, into which both Mono and Inyo County are grouped, at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday night.
Tuesday’s emergency meeting of the Mammoth Lakes Town Council meeting began with a rundown of current Covid statistics and a summary of the new state guidance by Town Manager Dan Holler and Mono County Public Health Officer Dr. Tom Boo.
Boo did not mince words when speaking about the current surge in cases.
“I can’t overemphasize enough how grave this situation feels,” he said. “Cases have been increasing exponentially, doubling at a really alarming rate. Hospitalizations have definitely increased.”
He explained that even the data being presented was about a week behind and that the current situation may be much more extreme than it appears. He also underscored a point that he has made repeatedly, that despite the overall survival rate of the disease being high, 12% of patients end up hospitalized as a result of the symptoms. With case rates spiking, that may mean local healthcare providers are unable to meet the demand.
“These are very hard times,” Boo said. “It’s been said repeatedly that this winter of 2020-2021 is sure to be among the darkest times in the history of American public health …having that vaccine coming is profoundly important, but it’s not coming fast enough to prevent a lot of harm, death and economic devastation.”
In reference to the vaccines, he said, “There’s a great light at the end of the tunnel but it’s a real dark tunnel between now and when we can get some relief from the pandemic.”
After running through the numbers, Holler turned to how Town staff planned to help residents in need.
The first program up: the Housing Assistance Program run through Mammoth Lakes Housing. Previously, $600,000 had been put into this program, compiled by allocations from the Town, Mono County and private donations. Holler’s latest ask: $250,000, to be pulled from the General Fund, Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenue and housing reserves.
The second iteration of the program would be similar to previous editions, with $500 per month given to qualified applicants to assist with rent payments. This version would likely be limited to 3 payments, all of which would go directly to the applicant’s landlord.
Holler said that people who had previously received rental assistance would be able to apply for the funding. They would still owe the remaining rent to their landlord, with no structure in place to ensure that a tenant cannot be charged interest on their rent. There is currently a moratorium on evictions that extends through March 2021.
Patricia Robertson, Director of Mammoth Lakes Housing, explained that the town’s previous allocations to the program had assisted with 668 rental payments while Mono County’s contribution of $80,000 took care of 162 payments. The proposed amount of $250,000, she explained, would amount to 500 payments, potentially stretching 2 to 2.5 months.
The allocation would leave approximately $150,000 in the Housing Reserve fund.
Next up: the Business Assistance program, operated through the town’s community development department. This allocation was the largest proposed, $400,000, 75% of which would come from the General Fund and the remaining coming from non-restricted capital funds.
Holler announced that there would be some changes to this version of the program, with an expanded scope and easier thresholds to meet.
Previous business assistance grants were limited to businesses that generated a maximum of $1 million annually. This restriction excluded a number of depleted businesses, mostly restaurants, from receiving any funds. This time around, the cap would be $3 million.
In addition, past funding was withheld from businesses without a physical storefront or residence. That condition has also been struck.
Holler explained that internal discussions had circulated about moving funds out of the Tourism reserve to help back the program, but it was decided to hold off on moving that money. “Ultimately as we come back out of Covid, do those funds need to leveraged back into the community either from marketing side or what type of investments do we need to address?” Holler asked rhetorically.
Town staff also recommended allocating $75,000 for local food bank assistance and $25,000 for the Right to Recover program, which provides financial assistance for those out of work/quarantining due to a direct Covid impact (they or someone close to them tested positive).
Mammoth Lakes Tourism Executive Director John Urdi said that while MLT is not bringing back the food bank it ran from late winter to early spring, Urdi said that he has been in discussion with IMACA about directing resources their way.
He explained that food distribution via IMACA has been upped to twice a month and that while the organization normally serves 50-60 families, outward projections show as many as 200 families needing IMACA assistance down the road.
In response to questions about people gaming the food bank system or taking items that they may not actually need, Urdi explained that IMACA requires applicants to demonstrate need before they are served. MLT’s food bank served whomever showed up, no questions asked.
The Right to Recover program will be mostly unchanged with exception of a decrease in allocated funding to those affected. Those demonstrating need/lack of work will receive a one-time payment of $500 via prepaid Visa gift card; previously, $1,500 was distributed.
Councilmembers were unanimous in their support of the allocation. Sarah Rea cited a recent national study that found nearly 12 million American renters will owe an average of more than $5,000 by January as evidence that financial support is greatly needed.
“The community can really rest assured that the values of the council are in this place,” John Wentworth said. He referenced current holdups in aid distribution at the federal level and urged town staff to take stock of what may or may not be on the way from the federal government in the coming weeks.
The proposed allocations were approved 5-0.