Hermiston City Manager Byron Smith participates in the conversation during a meeting to discuss how Umatilla County should spend funding from the federal coronavirus relief package at the Pendleton Convention Center on Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

The Hermiston City Council has approved a plan for more than $500,000 in CARES Act funding that will soon be available for the city’s use.

During their Monday, July 27 meeting, City Manager Byron Smith said the city will receive the federal stimulus money, aimed at assisting local governments that have lost revenue from the pandemic, on a reimbursement basis from the state.

“The state has reassured us they will expedite that as soon as possible,” he said.

Smith said the city can start by being reimbursed for the $16,000 it contributed to Umatilla County’s spring grants for small local businesses that were shut down by the pandemic.

He said the city also expects to have spent about $100,000 by the end of 2020 directly on COVID-19 expenses, such as paying overtime to cover for police officers and other city staff quarantining after close contact with a COVID-19 case.

The rest of the money the city plans to use as direct support to residents.

The city plans to put $100,000 toward a water and sewer assistance program for residents who need help paying their bill after their employment was affected by the pandemic. Another $25,000 will go toward a similar program to help residents pay electricity bills. Smith said that money will be added to the $250,000 that Amazon Web Services recently donated to help Hermiston Energy Services and Umatilla Electric Cooperative customers keep up on their bills.

He said the city hopes to extend those programs beyond those with the lowest income, to include those who make “just enough” that they struggle to pay their bills but don’t usually qualify for such assistance. He said the city can set its own parameters for which individuals and businesses can apply.

The city also plans to spend $75,000 on assisting residents in need with rental or mortgage payments. For both the housing and utility assistance programs, he said the regional nonprofit CAPECO has said it can administer the funds on behalf of the city, as it already has similar programs set up and people are used to seeking help there.

The city plans to give $40,000 to the Oregon Worker Relief Fund, which would direct that funding to Hermiston residents, such as undocumented immigrants, who don’t qualify for other CARES Act assistance.

The plan approved July 27 also calls for another $184,000 to be spent on assistance for local businesses that have seen reduced revenue during the pandemic.

Mayor David Drotzmann said he would like to see the money be available to businesses that already received some Paycheck Protection Program money, but are still struggling financially as the pandemic has lasted far longer than the federal grant covered.

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