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NORRISTOWN — Montgomery County has designated up to $2.6 million in federal funding to provide monetary assistance as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the local economy and create burdens on several programs.

Montgomery County’s Chief Financial Officer Dean Dortone introduced a trio of proposals during the Nov. 19 Board of Commissioners meeting that were directed to a food insecurity and workforce development program, the Montgomery County Community College and the Elmwood Park Zoo.

Funding came from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, a $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package which was passed in March to assist those affected by the economic crisis associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

With respect to the food insecurity and workforce program, Dortone said the COVID-19 pandemic’s financial ramifications resulted in “many Montgomery [County] residents may have difficulty affording nutritious food for themselves and their families,” according to the resolution.

Dortone said that up to $1 million in CARES Act funding would go to the YWCA Tri-County Area and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Dortone added that both organizations share a “joint goal of dealing with food insecurity within the county, which based on some preliminary numbers ... as a result of COVID-19, food insecurity could double what it normally is right now in Montgomery County, and if I had the numbers right, it was somewhere upwards to 140,000 people that could be impacted.”

According to the resolution, the programs “have established programs designed to alleviate food insecurity for families and children while improving employment skills and the opportunity for self-reliance for adults.”

With respect to the Pottstown agency, Dortone said that funding would help “enhance” a “commercial kitchen” to “actually make food get it out on the streets,” and incorporate a “workforce component” to provide “training” for those who may be currently experiencing unemployment.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society proposed using “the Norristown Farm Park as a green resource center,” according to Dortone. He added the organization has had previous experience with initiatives in Philadelphia.

Dortone said the program not only involves growing “nutritious fruits and vegetables, [and] getting them out to the people that are in need in the community, but also there’s a workforce component to that to training in the area of horticulture and gardening with the potential of having people placed into part-time or full-time jobs.”

Following Dortone’s presentation, Montgomery County Commissioners’ Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh endorsed the initiative

“I think this program is really compelling,” she said. “It innovates in its two-pronged goal of providing workforce training for our future workers, and also meeting a very real and immediate need in our community for access to healthy food, and uses an area of our farm park to grow that food.”

Montgomery County officials allocated up to $1.1 million via the CARES Act to the Montgomery County Community College.

The grant was given to the educational institution because of “increased costs” incurred “as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the resolution.

Additionally, roughly $500,000 in monies from the county’s portion of the stimulus package went to the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown. The cash infusion would establish an agreement between Montgomery County and the zoo, located at 1661 Harding Blvd. in Norristown.

According to the resolution, the “tourism” facility, “has seen increased costs, and a significant decrease in revenues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In other business, Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale took a moment during Thursday’s meeting to voice his concerns over a recent action taken by the county’s health board.

Following a nearly three-hour special meeting on Nov. 12, which recessed until Nov. 13, the board mandated that all schools in the county close and operate in a virtual learning environment for two weeks beginning the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Several parents have filed a lawsuit to prevent the order from going forward.

“On behalf of thousands of local families, I would like to express my utter disappointment and utter loss of confidence in the Montgomery County Board of Health,” Gale said. “Their recent unilateral decision, forcing the county’s public, private and parochial schools to shut down in-person education for at least a two-week period beginning on Monday, Nov. 23 is outrageous, unacceptable and the definition of government overreach.”

As COVID-19 case counts continue to rise in the state’s third most populous county, Arkoosh emphasized following health and safety practices. They include wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding touching of the face, getting tested, and cooperating with contact tracers.

“So the end is in sight. If we work together I know that we can suppress this virus. We did it in the spring and we can do it again,” Arkoosh said. "Please choose the path of making safe choices.”

“Know that you are not the only person making sacrifices, and show compassion and kindness to everyone in our community as we enter yet another holiday season unable to celebrate the way that we would like to,” she continued. “If we stand united in this fight we will beat this virus.”

The next Montgomery County COVID-19 press conference is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Nov. 24.

@rachelravina on Twitter

Rachel Ravina is a journalist covering news and lifestyle features in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Blue Bell and graduated from Penn State. She's also a news enthusiast who is passionate about covering topics people want to read.

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