Visalia funds to help residents subsist

Subsistence Payment Program will provide 63 households with up to $3,000 to catch up on bills before falling too far behind

VISALIA – After approving funds to help local food banks feed those in need and receiving much of the funding for a countywide program helping businesses in need, the city of Visalia will now help those who may have a job, and enough money for food but are struggling to pay their rent and utilities.

At its Aug. 17 meeting, the Visalia City Council set aside $189,000 to create a new Subsistence Payment Program. The program will assist low-income residents who have fallen up to three months behind on their rent and utility payments to try and catch up before falling too far behind. Households will receive up to $3,000 with an initial goal of assisting at least 63 households. The city will seek a partnership with a local non-profit for the operation of the new program, which is projected to begin operation in November.

“Many low-income persons will find themselves still far behind in their rent and utilities once the moratorium on evictions is eventually lifted by the governor,” the staff report stated. “This short-term assistance could prevent the addition of these persons to the city’s homeless population.”

The funding is what was left of the city’s $788,000 Community Development Block Grant it received as part of the federal stimulus package known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Nearly three quarters of the federal grant was used to help local food banks meet the growing demand for food assistance in Visalia.

At its July 20 meeting, the city council awarded $425,551 in CARES Act funding to the Central California Food Bank (CCFB) to help local food pantries meet the increased demand for food distributions since the pandemic began in March. Through the first half of this year, the food bank has seen a 22% increase in meal distributions in Visalia compared to last year due to COVID-19 and a 50% increase across its total service area including Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties. More than a quarter (26%) of those in the last three months have been new clients who have never participated in one of CCFB’s distributions before.

Most of the money ($320,169) will provide emergency food boxes to families through 10 food pantries in town: Bethlehem Center, CSET, REACH, Salvation Army, Seven Oaks Church, Town Meadows Apartments, Visalia Emergency Aid Council, Visalia Rescue Mission, and Visalia United Methodist Church.

The food bank will use another $77,000 to fund a program that provides a weekly bag of food to elementary and middle school students year-round. The program is new to Visalia but has been operating successfully in Fresno. The bags of food will be distributed at Valley Oak Middle School. About $28,000 will fund a Neighborhood Market Program providing fresh fruits and vegetables to low-income communities in a farmer’s market style distribution on a monthly basis. The markets will be held at the Salvation Army, Seven Oaks Church, Visalia Emergency Aid Council, Visalia United Methodist Church.

One third of the money ($153,500) to CCFB will go toward administration costs.

The city has until June 30, 2027 to spend the CDBG-CV funds which have been awarded; however, HUD has advised cities to move forward quickly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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