On a sunny Thursday morning, a small group of senior citizens gathered near the Heinz-Menaker Senior Center to hear a proposal that would benefit them.
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse announced his proposal to use over $12 million of the city’s federal American Rescue Plan Act money to invest in senior residents.
Those plans would create a one-year, guaranteed income program for seniors, would devote money to a proposed affordable housing project and would fund improvements to the senior center.
“It is our seniors that have been most affected by this COVID crisis and could most use our assistance as we begin to bounce back next year as a city,” Papenfuse said.
The over $12 million in funding constitutes about half of the federal dollars that Harrisburg has already received. With additional money coming next year, the city is set to receive $48.8 million in total.
His proposal is to use $10.8 million to provide 3,000 Harrisburg senior residents experiencing poverty with a $300 monthly check. The payments would last for just one year, he said, explaining that this is a pilot program.
According to Papenfuse, a majority of Harrisburg’s seniors are facing poverty, living on 30% of the area’s median income.
Any senior 65 and older, whose income does not exceed $17,850 per year, would be eligible for the guaranteed income program. The program, he said, will accept all eligible applicants.
“The choice on how to spend that income rests with the individual, and this is something we believe very strongly in,” Papenfuse said. “If a senior needs to be able to spend that money on food or transportation or rent, whatever the issue is, that choice lies with the senior.”
The program would serve as a pilot, and the city would collect data throughout the year, Papenfuse said. There eventually could be a discussion about continuing the program in the future, he said.
The Harrisburg Housing Authority would help with marketing the program and assisting seniors with applying.
In addition to the guaranteed income program, Papenfuse proposed allotting $1 million for affordable housing development. Most of that would go to the Harrisburg Housing Authority for the recently approved Bethel Village project planned for N. 6th and Herr streets, in partnership with local RB Development.
The affordable housing project received praise from city council members for its commitment to providing housing for low-income seniors. However, it solicited concern from the community over its lack of parking.
Papenfuse said that the rescue plan dollars would likely fund the creation of an underground parking garage at the site.
The Heinz-Menaker Senior Center would also benefit from Papenfuse’s proposal as he suggested giving the facility $500,000 for building and program improvements and expansions.
“There’s a lot of deferred maintenance on this center,” said Les Ford, director of the senior center. “I want to make sure that, as we try this round of rebuilding, we focus on our senior citizens. It is money that will be well spent.”
A final $50,000 of the over $12 million total would be spent to purchase a senior shuttle for city residents, Papenfuse said.
As part of this initiative to assist seniors, Papenfuse proposed establishing a new senior services advocate position to help coordinate services for seniors and work with the state and county departments of aging.
Papenfuse is hoping to receive feedback from residents on his proposals through online surveys, comment drop boxes and pop-ups around the city.
“It would be nice if this happens,” said 83-year-old resident Phyllis Hinnant, who is also a member of the Heinz-Menaker Senior Center. “It would help all of us. We deserve that.”
Papenfuse recently announced his plan for another $13 million of the rescue funds. He proposed reconstructing the city’s Hall Manor and Jackson Lick pools, which are over 50 years old.
He plans to present both of these ideas to city council as part of the 2022 budget process in November, he said. Papenfuse stated that he believes council members are on board with the proposals.
However, city council has increasingly voiced frustration with the lack of communication from Papenfuse on his plans for the rescue plan money. Many members have spoken out at council meetings, asking to be included in the planning process.
City council will need to approve these proposals in order for them to move forward.
“I’m glad we are in the position with these American Rescue Plan funds to make a difference in this important way,” Papenfuse said.
If you like what we do, please support our work. Become a Friend of TheBurg!