MERIDEN – A local non-profit organization that provides after school and summer meals to area students, a local dance studio and the Meriden Fire Department could become the latest recipients of American Rescue Plan Act funds.
The American Rescue Plan Act Steering Committee voted Monday night to recommend the City Council fund the three proposals. The city has so far committed roughly $ 18.5 million of its total ARPA allocation of $ 36.3 million toward projects proposed by multiple city departments, nonprofits and local businesses.
The first in the latest round of requests is a $ 60,000 proposal from the non-profit organization Change the Play Inc. that would enable the organization to purchase a refrigerated van to “allow for easy delivery of meals to students at home as well as at sites” across the city, particularly during the summer months. The van would also deliver meals to students who have been quarantined because they tested positive for COVID-19. The cost is around $ 25,000 according to the proposal, meaning the remainder would go toward staffing costs
The organization served roughly 44,000 meals to Meriden children throughout the 2019-2020 school year. That service decreased to 34,000 meals a year later – “a loss due to meal storage, staffing costs and COVID-19 PPE requirement costs as well as reduced access to children,” the application stated. “A refrigerated van and funds to ensure proper staffing, PPE and meal storage for hot meals will help increase access to meals for children …”
Change the Play founder Jason Teal told committee members the refrigerated van would enable the group to increase the amount of meals it serves daily – from its current 200 meals, to between 1,000 to 2,000 meals each day.
The van would also enable the organization to reduce the amount of food that spoils.
Teal said the proposal would also enable the organization to recruit and retain staff members through improved compensation.
Committee members generally supported the proposal. Mayor Kevin Scarpati proposed reducing the funding request from $ 60,000 to $ 25,000 to cover the cost to purchase the refrigerated van.
“I believe the funding for staffing, while important, isn’t nearly as important as the funding for the van,” Scarpati said. His motion to amend the request was seconded by City Councilor Michael Carabetta.
Carabetta said he supports the request to purchase a van.
“I think what he’s doing is important in the community,” Carabetta said of Teal, Change the Play’s founder. “But let’s make sure that we still have enough money leftover to give to others too.
The proposal spurred a briefly contentious exchange between Scarpati and other committee members.
City Councilor Yvette Cortez, who chairs the steering committee, said she would have a “hard time cutting $ 35,000” off the request.
“I just don’t even understand the logic,” she said.
“I think the logic speaks to our ability as a committee to identify needs in any application,” Scarpati said, adding he is not underestimating the needs of any program. “I have been the only member of the committee over and over to suggest amendments and cuts..we would have far less than $ 18.5 million remaining to allocate to agencies, non profits, businesses that feed kids, that provide educational programs, that provide art and culture, that provide public safety needs.
“All I’ve stated and will state again, if this committee simply approves projects that are in front of us and not question or amend then I don’t feel there is a need to have this charade of a committee meeting and waste everyone’s time to ask the questions and make the hard decisions, ”Scarpati said. “That’s what I’m here to do. It’s easy to give away money. It’s hard to do it responsibly. And that’s what I’m suggesting we do. It’s a valid program. It certainly serves a population that’s needed. I think there’s other creative ways to do that, without harming the program as it stands today. ”
City Councilor Michael Rohde said he resented the mayor’s “implication that we’re acting irresponsibly when we make our votes”. I won’t vote for anything I feel is irresponsible, ”he said.
Rohde described Change the Play’s proposal as legitimate and the program worthwhile. He described the mayor’s proposed reductions as “wrong-headed.”
“I would hate to cut it that drastically. They’re serving the most vulnerable children we have, ”Rohde said, adding he would support the full amount, or at least more than enough to support the van alone.
The second proposal, from Higher Movement LLC, a dance studio on Scott Street, seeks $ 50,000 in funding to provide one year’s worth of dance classes to 33 students, and covers the cost of dance costumes and two recital tickets.
A budget breakdown of the request showed that the majority of funds would be used to cover Higher Movement’s payroll and facility costs.
Higher Movement owner Kirby Shields, in her presentation, cited studies showing the negative impact of the pandemic on children’s physical and mental health.
Shields said dance programs have been shown to have positive mental health benefits, including improving self esteem and reducing stress.
Committee members’ questions centered on how the program would target the city’s economically disadvantaged population.
Shields said the studio did not determine a way to address the financial status of potential families that participate.
City Manager Timothy Coon said that is something the city’s ARPA consultant could work with Higher Movement on. Coon said he fully supported the application.
Scarpati said he didn’t disagree that the program should be aimed toward families who would otherwise not be able to afford to participate in dance. However, he did not feel it would be responsible “to handcuff” the studio and potential scholarship awardees to financial obligations.
“I think ultimately they’re going to be benefiting kids in the community,” Scarpati said, adding that the business itself was impacted by COVID and that is an allowable expense under ARPA funding rules.
“This is an assistance to a small business,” Scarpati said, prior to the committee’s vote to support the application.
A third proposal, a $ 40,585 request from the Meriden Fire Department, seeks to purchase two chest compression systems that fire officials stated would increase the number of engine companies across the city that are equipped with such machines.
“The devices provide un-interrupted CPR which is associated with better patient outcomes in cardiac arrest situations,” the fire department’s application stated.
Ultimately, the committee backed that application as well.
Deputy Fire Chief Ryan Dunn said that since the department acquired its first two chest compression systems, it has seen a significant increase in patients’ odds of surviving cardiac arrest. Since the program was introduced, survival rates increased by 10%, Dunn explained. Increasing the number of engine companies equipped with those devices would bolster the department’s capacity to provide timely emergency medical care, he explained.
Reporter Michael Gagne can be reached at [email protected]