Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito explains the $5 million Safe Streets program to provide municipalities aid developing outdoor spaces and routes for the public and businesses.
BOSTON — Towns and cities trying to aid businesses in reopening will have access to some $5 million in grants through the state Department of Transportation.
The grant program, in partnership with the Barr Foundation, is designed to address the Phase 2 reopening that allows restaurants to offer outside seating and other businesses to open their doors to limited access.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has created issues around safe mobility and physical distancing, said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on Thursday at the governor's regular COVID-19 update, such as patrons being spaced apart when queuing up for retail and grocery stores.
"This is like the restaurant downtown on your main street that you might see opening outdoor dining in a parking lot or an apartment or using sidewalks," she said. "These funds will be directly available for a municipality to help these businesses create more comfortable and exciting spaces in your community so that people can get easily get to and enjoy the offerings at their local establishments."
The grants will range from $5,000 to $300,000 for municipalities to quickly launch, or expand improvements to sidewalks, curbs, streets, on-street parking spaces and off-street parking lots in support of public health, safe mobility and renewed commerce in their communities. The Barr Foundation will help with technical assistance and making out applications.
The grants can also be applied with the Safe Routes to School program as communities prepare schools for reopening with the expectation there may be more walking, biking or parent drop-offs to lower the number of children on buses.
Most municipalities have moved quickly to ease the reopening of restaurants that have seen their revenues drop when forced to close or only offer takeout options when the pandemic lockdown went into place in mid-March. While some eateries have outdoor dining options, many downtown spaces do not.
Locally, Moonlight Diner in Williamstown was able to block off part of its parking lot and Freight Yard Pub in North Adams its summer patio. The options are more limited for restaurants along business districts who have to utilize public spaces such as sidewalks and public parking lots.
"Cities may need jersey barriers in order to close off streets to make it a dining area, and then create a half-area for accessibility purposes and for mobility purposes," Polito said as an example of what the grants could be used for. "These are meant to be funds that are available quickly get into the hands of municipalities transition these spaces.
"We help restaurants, we help retail, we help the local downtown and main streets become active with more outdoor uses, which from the public health standpoint is really encouraged, So it's assistive, it's innovative, it's creative, but it's also an exciting opportunity for municipalities."
Shared Streets & Spaces is a 100-day program with applications being accepted from June 22 through Sept. 29 and projects must be mostly or completely implemented by Oct. 9. Preference will be given to projects that can be operational within 15-30 days of award, within Environmental Justice areas, and that show strong potential to be made permanent. The application is expected to available shortly.
The lieutenant governor's remarks came after a tour of the Great Boston Food Bank with its President Catherine D'Amato, Gov. Charlie Baker, Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders and Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides.
Baker said $41 million is now available to address urgent food insecurity for Massachusetts residents as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding come from $56 million being invested on the recommendation of the Food Insecurity Task Force that was announced last month.
"This public health emergency has heightened the concerns and the needs of many of our vulnerable families and communities," he said. "We recognize that this crisis has made things more difficult for families who are food insecure and is obviously increased the need in many communities across Massachusetts. There are many people and many families who've never called on places like the Greater Boston Food Bank for help before, but now they really need it. Increased demand underscores the importance of organizations like the Greater Boston Food Bank."
The balance of $5 million goes to the Healthy Incentives Program to help bring on board more agricultural vendors and "allow the administration to leverage federal SNAP funding."
Other programs include direct investment of $3 million to food banks and $12 million for 25,000 family food boxes (30-35 meals) distributed weekly throughout the state.
The governor described the House and Senate as "tremendous proponents on this issue for a very long time and they helped make many of these resources available."
"We'll continue to bring every resource that we can to bear here in the commonwealth is made of fighting COVID-19 will work with food security Task Force and our partners in the Legislature to continue to address food security issues going forward, and to ensure that every family and individual in the commonwealth has access to food," he said.
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A tropical storm heading north up the Atlantic coast could bring more rain to the Berkshires over the weekend.
Dubbed "Fay," the storm began as a tropical depression off the coast of North Carolina midweek and formed late Thursday.
According to Accuweather, the storm has sustained winds of 60 mph and could bring 2 to 4 inches of rain over Western Mass and Southern Vermont from late Friday through Saturday morning.
"Fay will make landfall along the New Jersey coast during Friday afternoon," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist and Lead Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said. "Fay will be a mostly heavy rain producer but could still bring wind gusts of 50-60 mph along coastal areas of eastern Long Island and over southern coastal areas of New England."