Hearing, photo 1

Emily Swain, community impact director for the United Way of Marion and Taylor Counties, on Friday addresses Fairmont City Council about the proposed Fairmont Family Relief Fund.

FAIRMONT — In a special session Friday, city council held the first of two scheduled public hearings on securing CARES Act funding to help prevent home eviction and utility shutoffs for residents who are suffering financially through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The city of Fairmont is working with the United Way of Marion and Taylor Counties to secure a $126,000 grant through the State of West Virginia’s Community Development Block Grant program, the funding of which was provided by the federal government.

The United Way is calling the program the Fairmont Family Relief Fund.

“The funds will be used to pay service providers for people who cannot pay their mortgage or utility bills because of COVID. It’s a coronavirus response grant,” said Fairmont City Clerk Janet Keller. “The city of Fairmont is just the pass-through provider. We apply for the grant, but the grant’s funds actually go to the United Way for program management.”

Emily Swain, the United Way’s community impact director, addressed council and laid-out plans for a proposed program that would administer the funding.

“In this first public hearing, we wanted to present the idea and give the public an opportunity to voice its opinion and comment on the program,” Swain said. “We know it’s very important based on the work we’ve done throughout the COVID pandemic and what we’re seeing now as it continues.”

The program will be structured in a way that the United Way addresses overdue payments on behalf of individuals, according to Swain.

“The assistance will be paid directly to the service providers, such as the mortgage holder, the landlord, or the utility companies. The United Way will pay the bills on behalf of the individuals,” she said.

Swain said the income-based program will begin once CARES Act funds are awarded, which she anticipates will be by year’s end.

To qualify for the Fairmont Family Relief Fund, a family of four must have earned $50,900 or less in 2020. Applicants seeking assistance must show a loss of income and financial strain directly linked to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to become eligible.

The program is modeled after a successful Parkersburg program that also embraced a partnership between city government and a nonprofit organization.

“It’s modeled on a city that’s already doing it and it’s been effective,” Swain said. “It’s an opportunity to really make a difference. The goal is to prevent homelessness.”

In briefing council members, Swain broke down how the grant funding would be administered by the United Way.

“One-hundred thousand dollars will be in direct service costs, which are the dollars that are available for eviction prevention services; $20,000 will go toward hiring a part-time staff person to administer to the program,” Swain said.

The remaining $6,000 will be administrative fees paid to the city of Fairmont for serving as fiscal agent.

“I believe the state is trying to get the money out by the end of the year,” she said. “We feel very strongly that this is a good partnership and it will be a huge, huge help to the folks in our community who are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19.”

The application from the city of Fairmont, United Way partnership to the state of West Virginia is due Oct. 31.

“Anytime we can do anything to help people in need, it’s a good day,” said Mayor Brad Merrifield. “It’s an opportunity for the city to collaborate with the United Way and do something good. I wish it were more money, as we always do. But if this can make a difference for some folks in these tough times, then it’s worthwhile work.”

Friday’s special session of city council was the first of two required public hearings necessary to qualify for the grant funding. A second public hearing on the topic is set for Thursday, Oct. 22, at 5 p.m., according to Keller.

“It sounds like a great program,” said council member Donna Blood. “We already get people coming in off the streets asking for help.”

If the proposal moves through the second public hearing, a resolution will be voted on by city council at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m.

“What we need to do to make this happen is miniscule compared to what these folks are going through. It makes you feel good to be part of something that will be positive. This is real life stuff,” Merrifield said.

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