Three Northwest Indiana rural communities are among 13 statewide to benefit from the new COVID-19 Response Program operated through the lieutenant governor's Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
A total of 108 applications requesting more than $23 million recently were submitted to the program that ultimately will distribute $4.5 million in repurposed federal Community Development Block Grant funds.
"Our rural communities are truly the next economic frontier and we have to do all we can to ensure they survive this crisis," said Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, a Republican.
Nearly $2 million was awarded in the first round of grants. Crouch said the program could see more than two distributions if additional federal funds are made available to support small towns.
"We know that our main streets are struggling in our small and rural communities and we are working to help ease the burden," she said.
One of the largest awards went to the Porter County town of Hebron. It's receiving $152,500 to create a fund that will provide short-term working capital for small businesses in order to retain jobs.
"I know they can use this money," said state Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron. "It's a great, great thing that they're among the early selectees of this grant money."
"I think it's very necessary to get into small communities to keep those businesses viable, it keeps employment going. It's going to be a long process as we dig out from this virus and this is a very beneficial thing, very helpful."
The other Northwest Indiana recipients were the Starke County city of Knox, $250,000 to provide working capital to businesses for job retention, and the LaPorte County town of LaCrosse, $10,000 to install four public wireless internet hotspots for residents' education and employment needs.
"Connectivity is so vital, especially now, as we are all working and learning from home," Crouch said.
State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, said he was grateful to see Northwest Indiana communities receiving funds to provide immediate assistance to Hoosier students, workers and small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
"Providing this critical support to our rural communities now is important as we look toward the economic recovery of our state going forward," Charbonneau said.
The lieutenant governor said Wednesday all of the agencies under her jurisdiction, including housing, tourism and broadband connectivity, are looking at how their programs can be realigned to assist Hoosiers during the coronavirus pandemic.
She said that includes the $30 million Hardest Hit Fund, which again will offer up to six months of mortgage payment assistance to income eligible Hoosiers who call 877-GET-HOPE or visit the 877gethope.org website.