Monday, November 22, 2021

Rural communities may miss out on infrastructure funds; experts recommend states stage outreach programs to help

Though the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package has plenty of money specifically earmarked for rural America, rural communities are concerned they'll miss out on much of it.

Most of the funds "will flow to state governments, with the most populous states getting the largest amounts. Then cities, towns and counties will compete for grants and loans, with state officials deciding who gets what. Federal officials will maintain control of about $120 billion, part of which will be doled out through competitive grants," Aallyah Wright reports for Stateline. "Rural leaders worry that they lack the staff and matching dollars to compete with bigger cities for their fair share of the bounty."

Some smaller, more conservative states have had difficulty with federal stimulus money because they don't have processes in place to decide how it should be spent, develop regulations to govern distribution, and then actually distribute it, Johnathan Hladik, policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs, told Wright.

Even when states clear those hurdles, rural municipalities often have trouble accepting and spending grants for similar reasons: lack of personnel, decision-making processes and know-how. Communities also worry they can't accept money that requires cost-sharing or matching funds, Wright reports. Hladick recommended that state agencies market their stimulus fund plans to localities to maximize the money's potential.

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