JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Local governments and organizations from across the state have identified more than $2 billion worth of projects that could potentially be funded with federal COVID-19 relief dollars.
The Missouri Department of Economic Development collected information from community partners through March 18 to learn more about what projects local planners would use American Rescue Plan Act funding on.
The department is investing more than $400 million in community projects in six areas: community revitalization, local tourism asset development, workforce development, industrial site development, digital literacy and broadband, and cell towers and broadband.
The Department of Economic Development received nearly 900 informational responses from community partners in rural, suburban and metro parts of the state. Local governments, nonprofits, chambers of commerce, economic development organizations and others participated.
"Different groups across the state submitted projects from all areas of the state, and it really gives us a good idea of what the universe of the ARPA projects might look like when we go live," said Shad Burner, director of federal initiatives with the department. "That's very helpful as we spend the next few months drafting the guidelines."
Working through the 900 responses to find common themes, Burner said, more than half were about community revitalization projects.
"North of 500 were in that bucket, which is our broadest bucket," he said. "It really looks to match the local priorities so it wasn't surprising that we saw the most submissions in that category."
Burner said the department is still working on what ARPA-funded community revitalization projects can encompass, but it's the state's intention to make the program as broad as the federal government allows. Local tourism asset development was the second most common project area.
Missouri has to follow the restrictions on ARPA dollars set by the federal government, and there might be a few other restrictions the state imposes, Burner said, but part of the purpose of collecting information from local partners is to create informed guidelines for the funding.
He said the department will draft guidelines so local communities can identify their priority needs, and the state can support those "as it makes sense."
The governor's budget recommendations designate $250 million for community revitalization, $50 million for local tourism asset development, $30 million for workforce development, $25 million for industrial site development, $30 million for cell towers and $30 million for digital literacy.
The state Legislature still has to appropriate the dollars through its budget process. Burner said he won't know how much the department can offer to local projects until that process is complete.
"Sometime after July 1, we will start rolling these programs out, hopefully over the course of a few months following July 1," he said. "Our intention is to stagger them a little bit, which will allow us to have fewer staff members working on it and be a little bit more efficient in how we roll this out."
The process for determining which projects to fund will vary by area, Burner said, and is still being worked out.
Some programs would likely have a review committee made up of department staff or external parties to review and score applications based on criteria still being developed.
The responses local stakeholders provided will help the department distribute funds more evenly throughout the state, Burner said.
He said the department may pre-determine some funding amounts available to rural and urban parts of the state based on the informational responses.
"Some of these programs are very large buckets of funds, and we don't want St. Louis City to compete with Carter County," he said. "They're very different places."
Burner said he's still working on a timeline for when groups that apply could receive funding and should have a clearer picture in the next few weeks.
The department will have a few other programs offering ARPA funds groups can apply for, such as a proposed $25 million small business grant program, but the department was only requesting information for select areas.
The information local planners sent to the department aren't applications for the funding. The department will release applications closer to July, Burner said, and communities that didn't complete the department's request for information can still apply for funding when applications are released.
Burner said stakeholders can stay current with ARPA funding updates and access resources to answer questions at the department's regular webinars on the first Friday of each month. Webinars can be accessed on the Department of Economic Development website at bit.ly/3IANVuw.