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Amherst poised to lose nearly $1 million in expected federal funds

Town Manager John Musante said Tuesday that preliminary information from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development shows that Amherst has fallen just short of the minimum threshold to maintain its status as one of 10 mini-entitlement communities.

If so, Amherst will not get the $900,000 in Community Development Block Grant money the town has planned to use beginning Oct. 1, 2013.

Musante said losing this money would be devastating for many segments of the community.

“This money is critically important to help serve some of the town’s neediest citizens,” Musante said.

For the past four years, the Amherst has obtained between $800,000 and $1 million that goes to both social-service agencies and capital projects that benefit target areas where low- and moderate-income people live.

Musante said the town has always been on the edge of qualifying as a mini-entitlement community. Previously it received smaller amounts in both 2004 and 2005, before losing the status the following two years.

He said it appears the state used updated U.S. Census data, as well as information about the number of students receiving free and reduced lunches at schools, to make the determination for next year.

The money for this year, however, is secure, meaning the $90,500 for operation of the homeless shelter by Craig’s Doors, $240,000 for modernizing the roof and heating and cooling system at the town’s child care facility, $25,000 for language programs for immigrants through the Center for New Americans, $25,000 for the food pantry at the Amherst Survival Center and $22,000 for a mentoring partnership by Big Brothers Big Sisters will not be affected.

Requests amounting to $1.03 million for next year, however, are in jeopardy, even as the CDBG Advisory Committee has already begun reviewing applications. Besides the homeless shelter money requested by Craig’s Doors, there are appeals for money from Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Amherst Survival Center and Amherst Community Connections, as well as a plan to spend $500,000 to rehabilitate the East Street School.

The first meeting was held last week and Musante is encouraging these meetings to stay on schedule.

“I want that process to continue because we’re pushing for reconsideration or transition funding, if necessary,” Musante said.

Musante said the town is sending a letter to DHCD requesting a full explanation of how it determined the town’s status. Town staff is reviewing data that could help with this reconsideration.

Transition funding, he said, would allow Amherst to still get a smaller amount.

The loss of CDBG funding could also reignite an ongoing debate in Amherst about whether the town should provide funding through the general fund. In recent years, this has been eliminated from the town budget.

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