Friday, February 17, 2023

Rural communities often lack resources to get climate preparedness grants; some create special taxing districts

Photo by Chris Gallagher, Unsplash
Applying for any large federal grant requires working staff, money, and application know-how. Those are in short supply in many rural areas. "Rural communities with the fewest resources for climate-change preparedness have a harder time qualifying for the federal grants that could help, according to a study by a nonprofit research firm," Sarah Melotte of The Daily Yonder reports on a study by Headwaters Economics. The firm's Kristin Smith told Melotte, “For decades we’ve known there are many communities that struggle to access the federal resources they need. When these communities can’t [raise money for the match], they end up in a downward spiral. . . . We need to start rethinking some of our systems.”

Melotte explains: "Local match requirements . . . typically don’t change depending on the community’s population size or wealth. That makes it harder for rural or under-resourced communities to pay the same amount for a local match as an urban area." Also, "The federal grant application process is tedious, and many other communities don’t know where to start."

Three Forks, Montana, population 2,000, is a good example of a rural town doing its best to raise the match funds and complete multiple grant planning steps. Melotte writes: "In 2022, Three Forks received a Federal Emergency Management Agency flood-mitigation grant for $4.15 million, contingent on final reviews. The grant would help fund a $5.5 million grass-line conveyance channel to divert floods from town back into the Jefferson River. Kelly Smith, the city treasurer, told Melotte the city has to come up with $1.2 to $3 million . . . Three Forks created a special improvement district where the city raises taxes in an affected area to increase revenue for a project . . . . There are a few more steps the town needs to complete before they can officially be awarded the money."

While there are programs to help, "FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program is an attempt to help communities be proactive instead of reactive about climate change by funding large-scale hazard mitigation projects," Melotte writes. "But it’s come under scrutiny for inequalities in funding opportunities. In the fiscal year 2020, wealthier communities received more than their share of funding, while many rural and under-resourced communities failed to receive aid."

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