Federal dollars have started flowing to the largest city in western Massachusetts to help with the recovery from the pandemic.
The city of Springfield has received more than $3.5 million so far from grant programs set up as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill known as the CARES Act.
While some of the money is earmarked for services for the homeless, guidelines for spending the rest have not been announced, according to Springfield’s Chief Administration and Finance Officer T.J. Plante.
"We are trying to figure out the best way to be strategic when we spend it," said Plante.
The Springfield City Council voted to accept the federal grant awards. The Council held an official meeting virtually Monday night – a first.
To respond to the emergency, Plante said the city is authorized to spend up to $10 million above what has been budgeted.
The single largest expense so far has been to erect and equip three large tents that will be used to provide medical services to the homeless. Plante said bills for the project come to just over $600,000 so far.
He said the city is keeping a diligent record of everything that gets spent on the emergency and will seek to be fully reimbursed. Because a federal disaster declaration has been made, Plante said money will likely be available from several sources to pay for immediate needs and future recovery projects.
"My hope at the end of the day is Springfield comes out ahead where we have more money to put into small business programs and other things are residents need and be able to maximize the federal government assistance," said Plante.
At some point, the City Council will want a full accounting, said Councilor Jesse Lederman.
" I think the flexablity is necessary during the state of emergency, but what I would like to see is a Finance Committee meeting, or something like that where there could be an accounting made of all this," said Lederman.
Springfield has also received $200,000 from the state – part of a $5 million emergency payout to local boards of health. The city’s Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris said the money will go toward the purchase of equipment.
"We have ordered PPE, we've ordered thermometers, we've ordered everything that might be necessary for us to have in our clinics to be able to manage this," said Caulton-Harris.
The city’s public health agency is also increasing its staffing. Nurses from the Springfield Public Schools are being transferred to work on contact tracing.