Salt Lake City mayor shares winter pandemic plan

With a coronavirus cure still a long way off, kids returning to school and temperatures starting to dip, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall is putting together a plan to help residents ride out the pandemic over the coming winter.

In a prerecorded speech shared at a City Council work session Tuesday afternoon, Mendenhall asked for funding to improve health care access, expand youth programs and aid people experiencing homelessness. The mayor also highlighted recent efforts to help small businesses, improve internet equity and provide rent and mortgage assistance.

“After living with the realities of COVID-19 for six months, and facing the reality that it will be many months before we have a vaccine,” Mendenhall said, “we want you to know that your city is committed to helping you weather this generational storm.”

The mayor asked the City Council to funnel $200,000 to the Fourth Street Clinic and the Association for Utah Community Health to improve health care access for the homeless and provide assistance to COVID-19 patients while they’re ill.

Another budget proposal for $1.6 million would grow Youth City programs during the school year as well as expand locations and hours. Last week, the mayor requested $75,000 to add three more public hot spot locations in addition to two existing City Connect labs in Rose Park and at the Sorenson Unity Center. Mendenhall said the improved Wi-Fi access will also help families with kids.

“These two budget allocations would be game changers for some of our Salt Lake City parents as they navigate the difficult path of online schooling and after-school care this winter,” Mendenhall said, “and we owe it to them to help lighten their load.”

A few hours before the council work session began, Mendenhall’s office announced a $1.1 million boost to community housing programs. Those dollars will help residents who are struggling to make rent or mortgage payments due to financial impacts from the pandemic. The funds will also help people experiencing homelessness find housing.

“With many Americans just one paycheck away from homelessness, housing stability and homeless services are an absolutely critical component of this plan,” Mendenhall said at the meeting.

Homeless encampments have been an escalating issue over the summer as police protests, building closures and pandemic responses have redirected resources.

In response, Mendenhall said the City Council and her administration are building a two-phase “Community Commitment Program,” which includes a neighborhood cleaning and outreach effort.

The mayor shared plans to assist the city’s workforce during the pandemic as well. She asked the City Council to direct some Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) funds to help business buy personal protective equipment.

Mendenhall also announced “Raise Up SLC,” an effort to raise $1 million to help residents who did not qualify for federal stimulus money. People can donate to the program by texting “GIVE SLC” to 21000. City staffers are working to improve access to city resources for business owners who speak other languages.

“We are facing a most challenging time, yes, but your city has your back,” Mendenhall said, “and we’re going to do everything in our power to make the road ahead a little easier.”