State putting up money to help with dining, retail logistics

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – In recognition of the fact that many cities and towns might have to change the way some public spaces like sidewalks and parking spaces are used in order to accommodate expanded outdoor dining and socially distance queuing outside of retail stores, the Baker administration is making $5 million in grant funding available to municipalities.

LIST: Outdoor dining in western Massachusetts

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Thursday that the administration had heard from local officials that they wanted to help their businesses rebound from COVID-19 impacts as they try to reopen under new state safety mandates and sector-specific guidelines, but needed help to do so. Polito said the money is meant to help municipalities “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.”

“This is like the restaurant in your downtown or your Main Street that you might see opening now with outdoor dining in a parking lot or in a parklet or using sidewalks. 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 out safely and enjoy the offerings at their local establishments,” the lieutenant governor said. “Some of these projects will help calm roadways, modify sidewalks or streets and repurpose on- or off-street parking where needed to better support curbside, sidewalk, and street retail and dining.”

During the ongoing Phase 2 of the state’s reopening, restaurants are allowed to open for al fresco dining, but some restaurateurs without patios or parking lots are constrained by their location. Retailers can welcome customers inside their stores again, but only under capacity limits and it is now common to have to wait in a line outside of a store. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread far more easily indoors, and Gov. Charlie Baker has said that, as a general rule, doing anything outdoors is better than doing it indoors.

“Many of these [are] businesses that have suffered great losses since March, so this is an exciting new opportunity and partnership. These streets are crucial public spaces and when used safely and well can be a key ingredient in a mindful COVID-19 recovery process, as well as help to make our communities more resilient for the future,” Polito said.

The grant money can also be used, Polito said, to address issues related to school transportation “as we prepare for fall reopening to encourage communities to think about how to move children into schools and maybe more walking, and parent drop-offs or walking and biking to school.”

“These are meant to be funds that are available, can quickly get into the hands of municipalities to transition these spaces so that we help restaurants, we help retail, we help the local downtowns and Main Streets become active with more outdoor uses, which from the public health standpoint is really encouraged,” she said.

During the same press conference at the Greater Boston Food Bank, Baker announced that his administration is now accepting applications for funding from a $36 million food security infrastructure grant program he rolled out last month.

The grants are intended to be put toward increasing food delivery, food bank and food pantry capacity, programs that make is easier for SNAP and WIC benefit recipients to receive food, and to support farm, fisheries, retailers and other business to make local food more accessible.

“Like in so many other areas, this public health emergency has heightened the concerns and the needs of many of our vulnerable families and communities. We recognize that this crisis has made things more difficult for families that were food insecure, and has obviously increased the need in many communities across Massachusetts,” Baker said. “There are many people and many families who have never called on places like the Greater Boston Food Bank for help before, but now they really need it.”

GBFB President Catherine D’Amato said Thursday that Feeding America has recorded a 53 percent increase in food insecurity nationally and has reported that Massachusetts has seen the second-highest increase in risk of food insecurity among children.

“We’re seeing a 50 percent increase of need at the community level. GBFB used to spend about $60,000 a month on food. We’re now spending up to $3 million a month on food,” she said. “We have record food prices and a disruption to our supply chain, and nearly a 400 percent increase in SNAP applications across our state.”

She said the funding the Baker administration has announced — a total of $56 million when counting other grant programs — is “the momentum we all need to make Massachusetts a food secure state.”

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