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As Niagara Falls announces COVID grants, Higgins wishes "news could be better" about federal relief

WBFO/Michael Mroziak

The City of Niagara Falls will provide funding to more than a dozen programs who requested a share of the city's Federal CARES Act dollar allocation. While a federal representative was there to help share the news, he also took aim at the federal government and what he calls their failure to help the people, medically and economically, during the COVID pandemic.

More than $2.5 million was secured for Niagara Falls through two federal sources, the Emergency Solutions Grant program and Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant program.

Mayor Robert Restaino says the city is ready to distribute $1.69 million of those dollars to 14 programs run by nine local agencies. They include Catholic Charities, Community Missions, Pinnacle Community Service, Neighborhood Legal Services, Niagara University, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Highland Clubhouse, YWCA Carolyn's House, and Heart, Love & Soul, Inc. Their pandemic-related needs for which they requested grants range from homeless intervention, emergency shelters, rent or utility assistance to clients, other outreach services, and acquiring personal protective equipment.

"We are aware, especially at Heart, Love and Soul, as other agencies are, that those who live on the margins continue to live there even more precariously, with more difficulty," said Heart, Love & Soul's executive director, Sister Beth Brosmer.

Mayor Restaino said the city was able to fund every request they received, and his staff carefully determined that all fit within the guidelines to qualify for a share of federal dollars. He discussed the hope of finding a COVID vaccine and explained that the city is considering holding on to some of the CARES Act money in anticipation of that vaccine.

"One of the things that we've discussed is the possibility of maintaining some of the funding for the purposes of ultimately obtaining enough of the vaccine, stockpiling enough of it here through our partnership with (Niagara Falls) Memorial Medical Center, so that when that time arrives we're able to provide the necessary vaccine for those who may not otherwise be able to avail themselves of it," Restaino said.

Congressman Brian Higgins appeared in Niagara Falls City Hall Thursday afternoon to share the news about the funding. But he stated that he wished he could deliver better news, that being passage of the $3 trillion federal relief aid package which has stood still in the Senate for the past several weeks. His lament soon turned into an angry criticism of the Trump Administration's handling of the COVID pandemic.

"Our nation has not responded well. Utter, utter, utter incompetence," he said. "The President of the United States is pitting the nation's governors against each other, undermining their ability to collectively try to secure personal protective equipment, ventilators, all the things that are necessary to keep our people alive, safe and healthy. You want to pit the nation's governors against each other."

Higgins also expressed frustration over efforts to ease restrictions along the US-Canada border, acknowledging the Cataract City's reliance on Canadian shoppers for its economy, and vice versa.

"I suspect the Senate will eventually do the right thing for the wrong reasons," Higgins added. "And the wrong reason is that the numbers are spiking. It's unfortunate that we have to endure more death and economic destruction in order to get Congress to do what it should have done eight weeks ago, or even further."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.