Federal Money For Youth Mental Health Expires Soon; Haverhill Councilors Aim to Continue Initiative

Haverhill City Counci President Timothy J. Jordan. (WHAV News file photograph by Jay Saulnier.)

Despite money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act expiring in December 2024, Haverhill City Councilors said last night they would work to maintain a funding source dedicated to youth mental health programs.

Mayor Melinda E. Barrett said she had to fight former Mayor James J. Fiorentini to include it in the budget three years ago and wants to sustain the initiative now that she is mayor.

This year, council Vice President Timothy J. Jordan said a committee will divide $750,000 among organizations that can apply during the month of March. Inviting councilors to join the group as well, Barrett said she wants to include members of the Community Development Department, who have experience accessing federal funds.

In the past two years of giving out grants, she said the city hired a Boston-based firm, Anser Advisory Consultants, for help navigating the American Rescue Plan’s rigorous specifications.

Compared to money coming directly from the city, Barrett said, “It is much more cumbersome.  Even [for] the school department, who got a lot of the money last round, I believe [ARPA Manager Kathleen Lambert] has been chasing people down because you have to have the documentation so we don’t get the ding in the end that we have to pay the federal government back because we didn’t do something right.”

Councilor Katrina Hobbs-Everett pointed out that, last year, the committee included some members belonging to agencies vying for the funds. She said these groups then received money, despite “some wording” that they could not.

“And that’s why we’re trying to clean that up,” Barrett responded. “If there are people that end up on the ranking group that have an agency they work for, we will do a Robert’s Rules of Order – you have to get up and get out of the room while the ranking is going on.”

Hobbs-Everett said some community organizations have had trouble applying in the past and suggested they send representatives to the committee. Barrett countered they should access online webinars for information. She added any group can apply if their proposed program is not religious, which is a federal requirement.

To keep the program alive after American Rescue Plan Act funding expires, Barrett said she is looking for “workable solutions,” which may include cannabis sales tax money. Councilor Melissa J. Lewandowski said she looked for possible state grants and did not find much. One potential source is Senate Bill 60, which proposes one percent of the state’s recreational cannabis tax go toward substance abuse prevention. According to Lewandowski, this totals around $1.5 million to be spread across the state.

She motioned to send a letter to Haverhill’s state delegation to inquire about the bill, as well as to the Senate and House committee on cannabis policy express support for it. The motion passed with nine yeas, with Councilor Catherine P. Rogers absent, and Councilor Michael S. McGonagle abstaining.

In other news, Haverhill Police Sgt. Kevin Lynch told councilors the department’s traffic and safety unit monitored Eighth Avenue between Hale and Primrose Streets for 51 days, recording an average of 71 trucks traveling through each day. He said they could apply to the state to exclude trucks outright or restrict the hours they could drive through. The Council sent the issue to the Traffic and Safety Committee, where Lynch will help neighbors and businesses find a compromise.

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