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Report suggests how Newton should spend federal pandemic relief funds

As the city of Newton plans how it will spend millions in federal pandemic relief funds, a community needs assessment suggested the city could help ease challenges faced by lower-income residents in areas such as housing, child care, and transportation.

The assessment, which gathered input from nearly 700 participants last fall, also recommended the city consider a range of services for lower-income residents, including programs to help with emergency housing and food assistance.

It should also consider ways to provide longer-term aid, such as creating more affordable housing, the report said.

The city commissioned the report last year to help guide the use of $63 million Newton received in federal pandemic aid, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller has said.

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“We are now reviewing the findings and carefully considering how best to utilize ARPA funding and our ongoing services to address the critical needs identified in the report,” Fuller said in the statement.

Fuller encouraged people to share their input on how Newton should allocate federal aid money by contacting communityneeds@newtonma.gov.

The assessment drew upon focus groups with residents and community-based organizations, and meetings with no-profit leaders, elected officials, and city staff, according to the report. It was also created from input from a multilingual survey.

The report said Asian respondents made up 12 percent of participants in the survey. People who identified as Latino made up 10 percent, and Black participants made up 9 percent of survey takers, the report said. More than half of participants were white.

The report, issued last month, found the pandemic had a disproportionate impact on people of color in the city.

Participants in the assessment also reported facing several challenges due to the health crisis.

* Paying bills: Nearly two-thirds of the Black participants reported this as a challenge due to the pandemic. Nearly half of Latino participants, and about one-fifth of Asian and white participants reported the same issue.

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* Income reduction from job loss or work hour cuts: About 40 percent of Black participants, along with one-third of Latino and Asian participants, reported this issue. Nearly a quarter of white participants also reported it.

* Meeting mental health needs: Close to half of Black participants reported challenges addressing this issue. Thirty percent of Latino and white respondents, as well as about one-fifth of Asian participants, also reported it.

* Meeting physical health needs: More than one-third of Black participants said this was an issue. It also was reported by a quarter of white respondents, 19 percent of Asian participants, and 16 percent of Latino participants.

The assessment report also found that the health crisis led to people facing substantial challenges with income and managing household expenses for participants earning up to $50,000, speakers of languages other than English, as well as Black and Latino respondents.

It also found that housing and rental costs, financial hardship, and loss of income were among the top personal challenges for people including those earning up to $50,000, and people of color, and speakers of languages other than English, the report said.

Survey respondents supported direct financial assistance for rent or utility costs, the report said. It also said participants suggested the city develop a program to help low-income, long-term renters move into home ownership, and for the city to create more affordable housing.

The city should also help people enroll in affordable health insurance, respondents said, and find mental health or substance abuse treatment providers, according to the report.

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A significant issue for young families is child care, and respondents said vouchers and subsidies to help with those costs would help, according to the report. They also suggested expansions to afterschool services and summer programming.

The city should expand its multi-language offerings and ensure interpreters are always available on demand to assist residents, respondents said.

Participants in the survey and focus groups also said the city should look closely at challenges related to child care and transportation, the report said.

Attention to those areas, according to the participants, “would also help with their ability to obtain credentials, access jobs, and maintain employment.”

The report, which was created by the Rochester, N.Y.-based Center for Governmental Research, included recommendations like adapting its approaches for assisting different populations, such as immigrant groups.

Those offerings could include free, confidential bilingual legal assistance to help people navigate support programs, the report said.

The city must also continue to engage “lower-resourced” and traditionally marginalized community members.

“Participants were pleased and honored with the opportunity to weigh in and provide their perspectives to help inform the City’s decision-making process around the use of ARPA funds,” the report said.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.