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Carbondale has $7.8 million in COVID relief — and city leaders have to decide how to spend it

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The Carbondale City Council met virtually Tuesday, Sept. 14, over Zoom. 

How can the city best spend $7.8 millions dollars? 

This is the question the Carbondale City Council is asking after learning the city will receive this amount in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

As part of the American Rescue Plan enacted by President Joe Biden in March, $1.9 trillion in COVID-19 relief funds were provided to states and cities nationwide. 

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Carbondale is eligible to receive $7,858,667 — to be spent before Dec. 31, 2024. 

Recipients can spend the money on costs associated with COVID-19 public health emergencies or the virus’ negative economic impact on households, small business, and nonprofits, according to documents provided by the council. The money can also be spent on industries hit hard by the pandemic — such as travel, tourism and hospitality.

During a virtual Zoom meeting Tuesday night, the City Council discussed using the relief funds to aid the Southern Illinois Coalition for the Homeless, the Eurma C. Hayes Center, the Women’s Center, and the Warming Center.

Council members also considered using the money to balance the city’s budget.

Community member and local activist Chastity Mays suggested in a Zoom chat feature that the city use some funds on the Dentmon Center, a local nonprofit — a sentiment echoed earlier in the meeting by Nancy Maxwell, founding member of the Southern Illinois Unity Coalition during a discussion on how to curb gun violence in the community.

Maxwell said the center wants to provide basketball, baseball, gardening and music programs for community youth.

During the meeting's comment period, two community members suggested using the money to address homelessness. They were Karen Knodt, pastor at First Christian Church and Diana Sussman, the library director and a board member of the Warming Center and Carbondale United.

“The warming center recently recorded 88 requests in a week for shelter that they had to turn away,” Knodt said. 

She said another organization had to turn away 751 families last year that they could not serve. 

“And with the end of the eviction moratoria, we face an even bigger crisis in homelessness,” she said. 

Mayor Mike Henry suggested using the funds to fix the HVAC system and make other repairs to the Eurma C. Hayes Center.

“This is their last best chance to bring that building back and Mr. Wills, I've spoken with him recently, I spoke with the contractor for the HVAC systems, they're probably going to get a 7-9% increase on equipment costs,” Henry said. “I would like to see the city do at least half of that.”

Council member Ginger Rye Sanders suggested addressing sewer/storm drain issues on the North East side of Carbondale; Council member Tom Grant suggested looking into the needs of the Women’s Center and mentioned building a kitchen for the Warming Center.

Once it comes time to vote on how to allocate the funds, some council members will have to recuse themselves from certain proposals because of conflicts of interest they have by serving on nonprofit boards.

According to City Manager Gary Williams, these funds are available to the city now.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the findings of three separate studies on Sept. 10. 

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Reporter

Kallie Cox is a general assignments reporter for The Southern with interests in political science, crime and courts, immigration, and social justice. Kallie is a SIU student and joined the newsroom staff in 2021. kallie.cox@thesouthern.com

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