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Springfield-Greene Co. getting almost $100 million in federal COVID-19 recovery money

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 7:14 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Along the same lines as the individual stimulus checks and the PPP loans, the federal government has another piece of legislation passed by Congress in March of this year that’s designed to help the country’s recovery from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill that offers aid to families, governments, businesses, schools and non-profits who were impacted.

At a recent Springfield City Council retreat officials learned more about the federal money available.

Almost $2.7 billion is going to the state of Missouri while Greene County is getting about $57 million and the city of Springfield is receiving $40.2 million.

“We’ve likened this to a meteor shower,” Springfield City Manager Jason Gage told the council of the widespread ways the money could be used. “There are going to be lots and lots of funds. There’s going to be funds for the arts for example.”

“The purpose for all this is helping the community recover from COVID and that’s a very broad category,” said Tim Smith, who’s been hired by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks to work with the city and county to help figure out where all that money should be spent and if those choices fall under federal guidelines.

Smith is a retired Greene Co. Administrator and Springfield Deputy City Manager who will research programs, rules, and eligibility criteria for funding opportunities plus coordinate communication among various groups and institutions involved in the project.

To sum up his job description?

“Here are our opportunities and then of course, here’s the strings that will come attached to those,” he said of the red tape always involved in securing federal funding.

The guidelines fall in four categories including aid to small businesses or non-profits who lost money because of COVID-19 and a category to provide hazard pay to those who provided essential work during the pandemic up to $25,000 per worker.

That group of essential workers would include staff at nursing homes, hospitals and home care settings; workers at food production facilities, grocery stores, restaurants; janitors, sanitary workers, public health and safety staff, truck drivers, transit staff, warehouse workers, child care workers, teachers, school staff and social workers.

The wording of the federal guideline says the funds are “offering additional support to those who have and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical infrastructure sectors.”

But Smith cautioned against everyone getting their hopes up.

“It’s unlikely that $25,000 is just going to show up in any bank account,” he said. “You have to show your time records, you have to show what you were doing and you have to go through all that documentation so that it can be ascertained that you were a first line responder person and that this is the kind of hazard pay that may have been established for you. It’s going to be very accountable.”

“Certainly there’s issues about how you would roll something like that out in a community,” said Springfield Deputy City Manager Collin Quigley.

And that’s something that all of the funded projects share. As one-time-only allotments, there will be a lot of considerations, fine-tuning, questions to ask and hurdles to jump over in submitting requests that fall under the guidelines.

“A lot of the bill talks about low income, social equity, racial equity. So you’ve got to put those things through that filter,” Smith pointed out.

Other categories include investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure and help for governments who lost revenue during the pandemic. Springfield, for instance, lost $31 million in revenue.

The city council discussed some possible usages for the money during their retreat but made it clear that nothing was set in stone and that they value the public’s input.

“One fortunate thing is we’ve been doing a lot of public engagement over the past two years even throughout the pandemic,” said Springfield Director of Public Information and Civic Engagement Cora Scott in referring to the Forward Springfield project that’s sought input on economic development, housing, transportation, services, infrastructure and parks. “So we do have a lot of data and information on community needs and desires.”

“The city will go through a very thoughtful process about public input and will allow ample time for it,” Smith added. “Fortunately we have very ethical city leadership. Even with all the distrust there is in government I can assure the citizens here that this money will be spent conscientiously.”

The city is working on a website to explain how the funding can be used and to seek input from the public.

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