Select Board supports programs to help residents in need of COVID-related financial assistance

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The Select Board threw its support behind two new programs related to COVID-19 and one returning program that are designed to provide financial assistance to residents.

“The two programs that we are introducing tonight speak to why Hopkinton is a great community,” Town Manager Norman Khumalo said at Tuesday’s Select Board meeting. “We actually through these programs are advancing what I believe best illustrates why we have been very successful over many, many, many years building a community.”

The CARES Act provided the town with $1.6 million, the majority of which was allocated to the schools to help with their transition to remote and hybrid learning. Other large chunks were spent on facilities modifications and protective equipment/cleaning supplies.

Khumalo said the plan is for an initial funding of $100,000 from that pool of money — subject to review — to be made available to residents who need help paying their rent or mortgage, including seniors who have not been able to participate in the work-off program due to the pandemic.

The town’s finance team has reviewed programs in other towns and developed an approach that works for Hopkinton, Khumalo said. There are certain requirements, including a 20 percent earnings loss due to the COVID-19 crisis. Applicants can apply for up to 50 percent of rent or mortgage payments not to exceed $4,000 per household, to cover November and December payments this year.

The final amount awarded will be based on available funds and the number of approved applications received.

The application period will run from Oct. 22-Nov. 10. The Finance Department will consider the applications, and Nov. 25 is the target date to issue the awards.

“As [CARES Act] program funding nears the December 30th expiration date and as the financial impacts of COVID-19 continue to threaten many in our community, this particular rent and mortgage support program seems like a worthy and timely use for some of the town’s remaining funding,” Khumalo said.

The second program is similar, but the funding source is different. The town plans to submit an application to the Community Preservation Commission for Community Preservation Act funding for the next fiscal year, as there is an assumption that there will continue to be a need for financial assistance.

The program tentatively would cover 70 percent of monthly rent/mortgage payments for a three-month period.

Assistant town manager Elaine Lazarus said the idea came about after discussions with organizations such as Hopkinton Youth & Family Services.

“We have indication from social service agencies and town departments that we do have households that are in need of such assistance today, and we believe that there will still be a need next year — although it would be great if there wasn’t,” she said.

After the program application is submitted to the CPC it would go through the public hearing process. If it gets a positive recommendation from the Select Board it would be voted at the next Annual Town Meeting.

The board voted to push the program forward and submit it to the CPC.

Meanwhile, the board voted to continue the means-tested senior citizen property tax exemption at the same rate as last year, approving a 200 percent exemption of the circuit breaker income tax credit of $1,130 — making the exemption $2,260.

Principal assessor John Neas noted that only a few communities in the state have this program, which provides tax assistance to residents in need. Residents who do not need help make up the difference with a slight increase. Last year the increase in the residential tax rate was two cents, from $16.80 to $16.82. Neas said that he can’t state for sure what the increase would be this year because the tax rate recap is not yet complete, but he anticipated it would be a similar amount as last year.

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