W MI charities say more federal aid needed as pandemic continues

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Calls for continued federal coronavirus relief were echoed Monday as U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson visited West Michigan. 

His first stop was Mel Trotter Ministries in Grand Rapids, which received $1 million from the Paycheck Protection Program designed to help organizations pay workers amid the coronavirus shutdowns.

Later, the secretary headed to Kalamazoo, where he held a roundtable at Gospel Ministries with U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and local leaders. Kalamazoo Gospel Ministries got about $460,000 in PPP funds.

There, leaders of local resource organizations listed the support that is still needed, primarily surrounding a growing concern related to evictions and reliance on social services as the pandemic drags on.

“We do not want people losing their housing,” Kalamazoo Mayor David Anderson said during the discussion. “Whether it’s rentals or it’s mortgages.”

Local organizations said they have had to front a lot of pandemic-related expenses and are still waiting on the funds they were approved for through the CARES Act.

“As a general matter, what we’ve found in some cases is the funds have been allocated to the state and that’s where the holdup is,” Carson said in response to that concern. “Over $226 million of CARES Act funding has come to the state of Michigan, but I know they have not disseminated all that money. Obviously there needs to be some attention paid to the local dissemination.”

News 8 reached out to the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, the department responsible for dispersing the relief Carson mentioned. Kelly Rose, MSHDA’s chief housing solutions officer and chair of the Michigan Interagency Council on Homelessness shared the following statement:

“After repeatedly communicating with the Detroit Field Office that our grantees were facing significant difficulties due to the delay in ESG funds being available, HUD provided us the grant agreement on July 23 — almost four months after the signing of the CARES Act. Without this grant agreement from HUD, we are unable to issue grants to the agencies that rely on this support. After receiving the grant agreement, we quickly updated our grant management system and have issued 32 grants so far this month and the remaining nine, that includes Kalamazoo, will be issued this week.”

Rep. Upton also responded to the delay in receiving federal relief funds, saying the hope is that the next stimulus package will include a different approach to disbursement.

“I’m a co-sponsor of legislation that will directly send money to the state cities and counties,” the congressman said. “So I am hopeful of a package, that clearly has to be bipartisan, that will help reimburse all three levels, units of governments directly and as soon as we can.”

Upton also shared his frustration surrounding the gridlock in reaching the next stimulus deal.

“I’m really disappointed that the Senate left town, didn’t get something done. They knew the House bill was way too partisan, so you’ve got to come back together,” Upton said, noting his remaining optimism. “I think we can do that. I do.”

He also acknowledged growing concern over U.S. Postal Service changes and funding shortfalls.

“It’s been an issue, actually, for a little while. I think our office started hearing some complaints as early as May or June, but there’s something afoot. There is. We have to make sure we have the right resources for our postal folks to do the jobs, to be safe on the job, to make sure the mail goes out rain or shine, as the saying goes,” Upton said. “…Whether it be a ballot, whether it be a bill payment, whether it be a birthday note or whatever it might be. There’s an expectation that letter is going to get there on time and we need to make sure it does.”

Upton said he will be back in D.C. later this week to focus on USPS, but added he has yet to see any bill language that may be put up for a vote.