The U.S. Treasury Department released its final rule on state and local coronavirus fiscal stimulus funds (SLRFF) on Jan. 6, part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which allocated $350 billion to local, state and tribal governments across the country to support both response and recovery from the effects of COVID-19.
According to the SLFRF, the program was created to ensure that governments have the resources they need to fight the pandemic while supporting struggling families and businesses, maintaining vital public services and building a strong, resilient and equitable recovery. through investments for long-term growth and opportunity. .
Some of the features of the final rule include key changes regarding replacement of lost public sector revenue, public health and economic impacts, premium payments, and water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, these the latter two impacting McLean County as a whole.
“The determination of how many dollars each locality would get was based on population,” Executive Judge Curtis Dame said. “McLean County has received or will receive approximately $1.78 million. So far, the county has $894,176 in its bank accounts.
Dame said the county immediately had discussions and found ways to use the funds effectively after receiving the first allocation of funds in June 2021 to “turn that $1.78 million, notionally, because our share not Federal corresponds to approximately $3 to $4 million for grant funds.
“What’s creative about this is that it allows us to have funds set aside in this special account to match with other grants that come in,” Dame said.
Once the funds were received, Dame said he applied for a federal land and water conservation grant for Myer Creek Park.
“At the end of the day, these are improvements we could make if we received this first grant,” Dame said. “The total of this grant if we receive it will be $336,000 in non-local dollars to help improve the park; he would install a gravity-fed septic tank that would connect to existing sewer lines near the park. … Our counterpart is $92,900 of these special ARPA funds.
Additionally, Dame said the county allocated $20,000 to the city of Sacramento to help with its tank renovation project, as well as an additional $113,000 to match funds from Senate Bill 36, which provides funding and terms for the operations, maintenance, support, and functioning of the Commonwealth of Kentucky government, through the Kentucky General Assembly.
“These are special funds allocated by the county for water and sewer projects,” Dame said. “So we did the same thing again and matched $113,000 for this project, and what that did was it helped distribute the funds to where every utility in the city to get help and get some of those funds from Senate Bill 36.
McLean County also received an allocation of approximately $332,000 for this. You don’t see that in our budget numbers because it’s allocated through that Senate Bill 36 program, but it was a creative way to use those funds again as our non-federal counterpart to s to ensure that all of our utilities could get some of that money.”
The final rule also addresses concerns about broadband and internet accessibility, which is a common issue in the county.
According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the final rule will significantly expand eligible broadband infrastructure investments to address broadband access, affordability, and reliability challenges, and add additional eligible investments in water and sewer infrastructure, including a wider range of lead remediation. and stormwater management projects.
Dame also submitted a Delta Regional Authority (DRA) broadband matching grant to expand the county’s wireless high-speed Internet access that will “overlap” efforts by power utility Kenergy Corp to bring fiber internet at home. If the county receives this matching grant, Dame said the total cost of the project is approximately $700,000, with the county matching being approximately $185,000.
Dame has had discussions with internet service provider Watch Communications as well as other regional judges about extending a minimum of 25 megabytes per second for internet service for underserved residents.
Currently, the equipment is attached to a water tower near the McLean County Health Department off Kentucky Route 81 in Calhoun, but Dame admits the height isn’t high enough to cross the obstacles at the tree line.
“If we get it, we will build a 300-foot freestanding tower that will be built to emergency services communications specifications,” Dame said. “Once we have that, the first 25 feet will be reserved for emergency communications (while) the bottom will be reserved for tower attachments to put wireless broadband in the home, communications equipment in conjunction with Watch Communications….”
Dame said this would not only solve the internet problem for the county, but also allow the county to transition to a Project 25 (P25)-compliant digital emergency management radio system, used by state police. from Kentucky.
Promising broadband upgrades also come at a good time as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the launch of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) on December 31, which could potentially lower the cost of using the service. for residents.
“One of the main questions I have is if we’re building this infrastructure, we need to do it in a way and with partners that is affordable to middle McLean County,” Dame said. “We can build the infrastructure, but that defeats the purpose if the average individual can’t afford the service we’re installing.”
According to an FCC press release, the ACP was created by Congress in the Infrastructure and Jobs Act and replaces the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program in the longer term, with the goal of ensuring that households can afford the Internet. the connections they needed for work, school, healthcare and beyond by offering a rebate of up to $30 per month to eligible households, while also having the option of receiving a one-time rebate of up to up to $100 to help them purchase a desktop, laptop or tablet from participating vendors if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 towards the purchase price.
“Our goal, and I think it goes hand in hand with the Digital Works Project, is to provide jobs without even having to worry about physical infrastructure upgrades,” Dame said. “There are now opportunities due to COVID and just society changing with technology for McLean Countians to be able to work from home. That’s another piece of the puzzle to get us to this point.
Certain criteria apply to potential applicants interested in enrolling in the CPA, such as having an income at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, approved to receive benefits under the free and discounted school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, recipient of a Federal Pell Grant in the year of current award and have eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income program.
“These programs fit together and go hand in hand,” Dame said. “So we’re doing a good job of improving our point-to-point Internet for broadband hardware, and then individuals can apply for these programs and be able to access the network.”
Overall, Dame sees great benefits from the final rule and the use of these funds.
“What we’re doing with these special funds is solving long-term problems that have been around for over 20 years,” Dame said. “…We are now at the point where we can make major progress. … I’ll be honest, I’m optimistic. I never dreamed that we would be as good as we are, but these funds, unfortunately how they came to us through the negative circumstances of COVID, will allow our county to be stronger financially than we are. have been….
For an overview of the SLFRF Final Rule, visit home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/SLFRF-Final-Rule-Overview.pdf.
For more information on the application process and ACP eligibility requirements, visit fcc.gov/acp.
Freddie Bourne, [email protected]