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More job training – not luck – part of Buffalo's revised stimulus spending plan

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Buffalo City Hall.

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The lottery is out.

So it won't be luck that puts money into the hands of Buffalo residents as part of $331 million in federal stimulus aid coming to the city.

Instead, those choosing to enroll in job training and readiness programs will be among the beneficiaries of how the Brown administration intends to use American Rescue Plan money, according to a revised plan to be considered on Thursday by the Common Council.

Last month, the initial version of the administration's plan called for 1,600 low-income residents picked by chance to receive $500 a month for two years for a total payout of $20 million – with no restrictions on how they could spend the money.

But that idea has been scrapped in the revised plan. Instead, the income assistance program has been replaced by a $20 million plan to provide "wraparound services support" for those training for jobs in the fields of medicine, technology and information sciences and advanced manufacturing. The funds would provide enrollees in training programs with money to defray the costs of child care, transportation, clothing, medical costs or other financial burdens that often force residents to end their training before finishing.

The new version focuses on people already employed in low paying jobs, with the hope they'll finish their training within two years and be prepared to move into better paying jobs, Mayor Byron Brown said.

“From listening to the community, organizations in the community and doing additional research, we determined this would be a more effective approach for Buffalo right now, to look at people who are currently employed, not making a significant income,” Brown told The News.

Buffalo would also allocate $7 million of American Rescue Plan funds to expand job readiness opportunities and enhance the quality of job readiness programs.

“Instead of the universal basic income, we shifted that to a commitment to training programs that could help people, that could provide the training for people to go from training to well-paying jobs fairly quickly,” Brown said.

The programs are among 26 ways Brown has recommended spending the city's American Rescue Plan money. 

The final version of the city’s plan, after Council Common consideration, will be submitted to the federal government by the end of the month.

The largest portion of the spending, some $107.9 million, falls under the revenue replacement category, replacing revenues the city lost directly or indirectly due to the pandemic. This accounts for 33% of the spending plan.

The plan calls for spending $70.6 million on disproportionately impacted communities, $92 million to soften the blow to those affected economically, $50 million on infrastructure, $9 million on public health and about $400,000 for administrative costs.

Under the $20 million wraparound services plan, providers of job training would turn in budgets and submit proposals identifying how many people they would enroll and how much money would be needed to provide direct financial assistance to participants based on the individuals’ needs.

Individualized direct aid would be based on what the enrollees and case managers say is needed to help the trainees finish their training programs.

The creation of a Neighborhood Improvement/Cleanup Corps, a $9 million initiative over two years, would provide jobs for 50 members and five supervisors. Hiring preference would be for low-income residents who live in neighborhoods of color. In addition to improving parks and other parts of the city, the subsidized work project can help those in the program land better jobs because it is easier for people to find work if they are already employed.

“We want to have members of the community that we hire to do cleanups in the community, that can do environmental work in the community … that can be trained to help our neighbors throughout the city on environmental matters, energy savings, making sure our neighborhood commercial streets are neat and clean,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, during the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in littering. We’ve seen an increase in dumping. This is something that residents of the community are very upset about and so we want to put members of the community to work, to actually be able to beautify our neighborhoods, our business districts, our park areas, our neighborhoods.”

Other recommendations in the plan include:

• Cybersecurity: $2.2 million to enhance cybersecurity measures and make the city's digital infrastructure more resilient against potential ransomware attacks.

• Public Health Equity Initiative: $9 million to establish a community health clinic on Buffalo’s East Side and provide affordable quality housing and health educational outreach and programming.

• Northland Workforce Training Center Scholarship. $2 million for residents of color and female students who are typically under-represented in the advanced manufacturing field. It would provide assistance for transportation, learning supplies, child care and other expenses.

• Frontline Arts Organizations Fund: $2.5 million to create a sustainability fund.

• Cultural Institution Support: $8 million to support capital projects at major institutions such as the Buffalo Zoo, Albright Knox Art Gallery, Shea’s Buffalo, Buffalo History Museum, Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo Museum of Science, Italian Cultural Center, Alleyway Theater, Broadway Market, Theatre of Youth, African American Heritage Corridor, the proposed Hispanic Heritage Center and the African American Cultural Center.

• Affordable Housing Fund: $16.3 million administered by the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency to seed an affordable housing trust that would leverage the city’s $12 million HOME funds and other private sources for the construction of new, affordable permanent housing for low-moderate income families and persons with disabilities, and improvements to existing housing, as well as transitional housing units for displaced residents and their families. The money includes $2 million to help renters, including Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority residents.

• Water and Sewer Forgiveness: $13 million to forgive the outstanding balances of every household’s water and sewer bills.

• Garbage User Fee Assistance. $5.5 million to provide low-income residents with assistance in clearing any debts or outstanding bills.

• Park Access Equity. $20 million to improve at least eight city parks with the purchase of new playground equipment and other capital improvements, and $8.5 million of the allotment would be set aside for the construction of an indoor sports facility.

• Masten Park/Johnnie B. Wiley Reconstruction. $23 million to be allocated for part of City/Buffalo Public Schools master plan for construction of athletic field, splash pad, outdoor pool, playgrounds, landscaping, shelter building, multi-use pathways, site lighting, access drive and parking lot, demolition of existing building and construction of new building within indoor sports court, restroom, locker room, concessions and general space.

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