MERIDEN — City Council this week filed a ruling on whether to use $600,000 in the American Rescue Plan Act’s COVID-19 relief funds to provide families with vouchers so children can attend camps city summer.
The board voted 5-4 to table the proposal at its March 7 meeting. Councilors Larue Graham, Krystle Blake and Michael Rohde were excused from Tuesday’s remote meeting and did not vote.
The decision came after questions were raised about the city’s plan for distributing vouchers and which summer camps would be eligible to receive them.
During the discussion that preceded Councilor Bruce A. Fontanella’s move to table the matter, Mayor Kevin Scarpati said city officials failed to come up with a sufficiently detailed plan, including summer camps. who would participate and the policies that would be in place to deliver the program. is as fair as possible.
The voucher scheme is modeled on a similar initiative launched by city authorities in 2021 using coronavirus relief funds. That year, the city issued 1,800 vouchers for use at the city’s three largest summer camps, operated by the Meriden YMCA, Meriden Boys & Girls Club and Girls Inc. Officials said 1,200 vouchers were traded, bringing summer camp attendance back to pre-pandemic levels.
Although the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and Girls Inc. run the city’s three largest summer programs, they aren’t the only Meriden vendors with state licenses to do so. Other agencies, including Valentin Karate and MidState Christian Academy, are also licensed as summer camp providers, according to the state Office of Early Childhood.
The city’s request for voucher funding referred to the need for a summer camp following the 2020 pandemic closures.
Officials wrote in the request, “With most camp programs closed or operating on a limited basis and the reluctance of families to expose their children to group settings, summer has unfortunately been ‘lost’ for most. young people from Meriden in whom their development is either stalled or regressed. Recognizing this, the City of Meriden last year made getting children back to camp a priority and funded a program that sought to remove any barriers that stood in the way.”
The proposal initially requested three years of funding, totaling $1.8 million. The American Rescue Plan Act steering committee recommended one year of funding at $600,000, with the possibility of repeat funding in subsequent years.
Scarpati, who sits on the steering committee, praised the previous year’s initiative, which he said “really helped with student engagement and getting young people back into activity, both socially and socially.” ‘educational’ after experiencing 18 months of reduced social interaction at the time due to COVID-19 related lockdowns.
Having seen the success, the officials proposed that he continue.
Fontanella said the proposal is a worthy use of funds “to try to overcome what happened in the time of COVID.”
But Fontanella was skeptical of the initiative becoming a line item in future city budgets.
“I think it’s a good thing to keep it year after year, so we can stay in control,” Fontanella said.
Scarpati, responding to Fontanella’s point, said, “It has been made clear that agencies cannot become dependent on these funds.”
During the ensuing discussion, Scarpati asked if the program would be run the same as in 2021 and if more agencies would be involved.
City manager Timothy Coon said the program will be “essentially similar”, although policy regarding its administration has not been specifically decided.
“It will be open to any Meriden-based summer camp that meets the summer camp certification requirements as defined by the State Office of Early Childhood,” Coon said. “One of the considerations put in place is to make the program as fair as possible.”
Scarpati said he was aware there had been internal discussions about what payouts different providers might receive and whether some might be able to offer additional weeks of camp.
“All I’m asking is what we do for the majority of agencies, that every agency has the same opportunity…if it’s going to be three weeks at a higher rate, that’s something that should be given to each agency,” says Scarpati. “…I’m somewhat scared and skeptical that we don’t have a firm plan.”
Scarpati then recommended laying the matter down until such a plan is in place.
“We don’t even know all the agencies that are going to be involved,” he said. “I think we’re doing ourselves and our agencies a disservice not knowing how the funds are going to be used.”