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Plan for spending $500k in aid will hit five areas, but La Crosse wants community’s input

Rick Solem

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To chip away at multiple problems or try and tackle one completely.

That’s the dilemma for the city of La Crosse, as it decides what to do with the final $503,391 in CARES Act funding.

“What we have is a plan as comprehensive as we could be but there definitely was a debate,” Caroline Gregerson, the city’s community development administrator for the past seven years, said. “Maybe we should just have focused in one or two areas, instead of trying to address so much in this plan.”

With the House and Senate on recess all week for Thanksgiving, and legislation ultimately stalled in the GOP-led Senate for months — the DNC-led House passed the HEROES ACT aid package in May — this is all La Crosse is going to have to work with for who knows how long. The CARES Act was passed in March.

“Clearly it’s not enough,” Gregerson said. “There’s no other Cares Act funding coming, and so I think what we found was, we try to part and parcel out the program to different projects and it’s just not enough for the need we’re seeing right now.”

The city is now asking for the community’s help.

The plan right now: spend about $105,000 on five different areas where the community needs the most help — small businesses, after-school services/childcare, rental assistance, emergency shelter/homeless and La Crosse County contact tracing.

“We’re out of money, yes,” Gregerson said last week on La Crosse Talk PM. “But, we’re asking the public, ‘Did we get this right with the needs? Is it small business, rental assistance, homelessness help, after-school care, contact tracing? Is there something that we missed?’”

The city is asking the community for input, before the council decides on the plan Dec. 7. Submit your suggestions by clicking here (then scroll down).

Gregerson said they had to expand who to help for this round of grants, after the last round of about $500,000. They also have had debates on how to spend the last bit of money in each area.

RENTAL ASSISTANCE
The reasoning for adding rental assistance, Gregerson said, was because Coulee Cap will run out of funding for it at the end of the month. The city is also considered expanding it.

“College students need help,” Gregerson said. “So, originally for our rental assistance, the plan proposed that college students couldn’t access rental assistance help. We thought, ‘There’s only $100,000 available,’ so this wouldn’t be for college students to access.

“But we did hear from a college student that, because they can’t work part-time jobs and are financially independent from parents, that they really can’t cover the bills right now.”

HOMELESS
Winter is, of course, coming and the homeless are going to need places to stay — which is very much more difficult during this pandemic.

“People are seeing a lot of homeless individuals in the park,” Gregerson said. “So there was some talk, if we’ve done too much already for the homeless, and then others who said we need to continue to fund that item. So we did, ultimately, include funding to support homeless population.”

There are multiple shelters in La Crosse for homeless to go, but with a highly contagious virus, that space has even more limits than normal.

“It’s very difficult to have our entire homeless population in shelter, as normal,” Gregerson said. “So, this would be funding rooms at a motel so that families, who are experiencing homelessness, have somewhere to go — a private room versus going to shelter.”

SMALL BUSINESS
The dilemma with small businesses is that the only way for them to really recover is to get public confidence back that it’s safe. And the only way to do that is get the virus under control.

“What was discussed at the committee level was, ‘Should we be helping businesses or not?’” Gregerson said. “Some people felt like there’s not probably enough funding in the world to help the businesses, and then others thought, ‘You know, if we can just give businesses a little more assistance just to get through the winter, they can make it in the long term.’”

With news of a vaccine on the way, perhaps the lifeline doesn’t have to extend that long, but who really knows.

CONTACT TRACING
The county continues to experience high levels of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. One way to bring these numbers down is to track down those who have come into contact with a COVID-19 case and get them tested through contact tracing efforts.

But, with so many cases, it’s becoming impossible for contact tracing to keep up.

RENTAL ASSISTANCE
People are out of work. In Wisconsin, it’s even become difficult for some to get unemployment in a timely matter. Since there has been no freeze on rent, those bills are due each month.

This time, though, the grant is being expanded to college students.

‘So, originally for our rental assistance, the plan proposed that college students couldn’t access rental assistance help,” Gregerson said, being the funds are so limited. “But we did hear from a college student that, because they can’t work part-time jobs and are financially independent from parents, that they really can’t cover the bills right now.”

AFTER-SCHOOL SERVICES / CHILDCARE
The last area is, perhaps, the least controversial. Parents are working. Kids are virtual learning at home. But not everyone is working from home, and can be both worker and parent.

Host of WIZM's La Crosse Talk PM | University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point graduate | Hometown: Greenville, Wis | Avid noonball basketball player and sand volleyballer in La Crosse

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