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Broadband and small businesses are among Baltimore’s priorities for $641 million in American Rescue Plan funding

Alongside City programs, Mayor Brandon Scott said Monday that his administration intends to distribute federal relief funds to community organizations.

Mayor Brandon Scott is setting priorities for federal relief funds. (Courtesy photo)

Baltimore City is getting a big sum of aid from the federal government. Broadband and small businesses figure to play a key role in the plans.

On Monday, Mayor Brandon Scott laid out the priorities and process for distributing the $641 million Baltimore City will receive as part of the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to the community.

For those who might be feeling lost in the flurry of COVID-19 relief bills, the American Rescue Plan Act was the law passed by Congress in March. It had many different pots of funding to spread its $1.9 trillion around, like a new child tax credit and rental assistance. Among those buckets was a $65.1 billion allocation for cities. Baltimore is in line for $641 million from that funding.

On Monday, Scott said the city will use the funding to make investments in a handful of priority areas, such as addressing COVID-19 and violence reduction. Right alongside them, it will be funding:

  • Economic recovery, with a focus on Black, Brown, and women-owned businesses, as well as artists and creators
  • Workforce development
  • Broadband and digital equity

“In a city like Baltimore with deep systemic challenges even before the pandemic, we must be strategic and targeted in our approach — with an eye toward making a definitive, measured impact on our city through a lens of equity,” Scott said in a statement broadcast on Facebook.

The city has set aside past recovery funds specifically for small businesses, so this funding figures to build on those efforts.

With the investment in broadband, Baltimore City is further prioritizing internet connectivity at a time when the City’s yawning digital divide is more acute as the world is increasingly virtual in a pandemic. It follows Scott’s appointment in early 2021 of Jason Hardebeck for the new City position of director of broadband and digital equity. It is likely to add to the big investment of $400 million in ARPA and state funds being allocated through the Connect Maryland initiative.

Specifics weren’t detailed just yet. The first round of awards will be distributed in September and October, Scott said.

In Monday’s speech, Scott also provided some process updates for organizations seeking funding.

An outline of the City’s application process for ARPA funds. (Courtesy photo)

Along with City programs, Scott’s administration is also accepting proposals from local organizations that are independent of the government. Beginning October 1, nonprofit organizations will be able to advance proposals for funding online at a new city website. On September 28, the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs will hold a virtual information session for nonprofits to provide details on eligible uses of funds and the application process.

Shamiah T. Kerney was recently appointed as chief recovery officer and will lead the office as it assists the applicants with the development of a budget and program design. Since the office was created in July, Kerney and her staff have been creating control standards for the implementation of recuse plan funds and refining the application process for those funds.

“We look forward to funding projects that will make tangible and measurable progress in the City, while balancing adherence to federal requirements for these funds,” said Kerney, in a statement.

Proposals that prioritize equity and partnership are likely to receive the highest scores from the seven-member team reviewing proposals. Consider the mayor’s five pillars —building public safety, responsible stewardship of city resources, prioritizing youth, economic and neighborhood development, and clean and healthy communities — as a broader outline of areas the city wants to invest in.

When it comes to tracking the spending, Scott added that the City has “plans for dashboards, maps, and other ways to connect the investments we make directly to impact — tools which will be available in the months to come.”

Watch the full address below:

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: City of Baltimore
People: Brandon Scott

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