SOMERSET, NJ – More than $400,000 of federal funds will go to job training and support for low- and moderate-income residents after the council approved an amendment to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program action plan last night. 

The move will use $300,000 to support partnerships with local non-profits, county and state agencies to train and place workers whose employment was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The remainder of the money provided to the program by this round of funding from the federal CARES Act – $113,473 – will be used to give additional support to those enrolled in the job training program. This can include “assistance with transportation, childcare and equipment need to implement the training program.” 

“This would allow us to provide job training and placement assistance so that we can stabilize their income and they would be in a more protected work environment should something such as COVID-19 occur again,” said Deborah Mitchell, Franklin’s CDBG administrator.

The township plans to house some of the programs at the youth center under construction at 429 Louis Street when the 13,000 square foot facility completes construction. Councilwoman Kimberly Francios, a driving force behind the youth center initiative, said that one of the programs they are looking at is for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training. 

“That is an area where we need to put more young people into the technology space,” she said. “So, I’m really excited about this and I think it is a wonderful thing that the township is doing on behalf of the community and the youth.” 

Residents supported the program during a public hearing on the amendment, with resident Benjamin Guy saying the programs represented a rare form of direct investment into low-income communities in Franklin that have typically suffered from a lack of resources. 

“If you don’t do it, you’re going to have an increase in crime, you’re going to have an increase in health disparities and an increase in the things that are going on here because of the lack of resources that are actually provided in the town at this specific time,” he said. “So, I think this is a concerted effort that the town needs to step up for and make a convincing effort to actually do these types of things.” 

The township previously received $160,993 in funding from the CARES Act that went towards relief for renters and small businesses, COVID-19 testing and funding for the Franklin Food Bank. Of that money, $25,000 went to the food bank, $20,000 towards COVID testing, $30,993 to businesses relief and $85,000 directed to rent relief. 

When the township originally received the funds last June the council prioritized small businesses over residents with the hope relief would “trickle-down” to struggling renters. The allocations at the time were $25,000 to the Franklin Food Bank, $85,000 for small business assistance, and $50,000 to coronavirus testing, with nothing allocated to rent relief. 

“The decision really came down to a logical methodology,” Mayor Phil Kramer said at a virtual town hall last year. “There’s a reasonable chance you can kill two birds with one stone if you fund businesses or help businesses stay in business and do business. Then they hire people and those people could very well be people who would be paying their rent. So if you pay rent alone then businesses aren’t helped at all, but our hope is that if we give loans or money or allocations to businesses the trickle-down will allow people to perhaps pay their rent.”

The council approved redistributing the funds in December, shifting money from small business assistance and COVID-19 testing to rent relief. The mayor said at the time that the township received a single application for business assistance and has incurred nominal costs for testing, prompting the reallocation.