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Starting Next Month, Baltimore Nonprofits Can Apply For ARPA Funding

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Emily Sullivan/WYPR
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Baltimore City Hall. On Monday, Mayor Brandon Scott identified three areas for ARPA funding and said nonprofits may apply for the money beginning Oct. 1.

Mayor Brandon Scott will allow Baltimore nonprofits to apply for some of the city’s $641 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds starting next month, he announced Monday.

He also identified three areas the city will put ARPA funding toward: community-based violence reduction efforts, a recovery fund for small businesses and investments in broadband infrastructure with a focus on equity.

Scott did not provide specific plans for these investments but said they will be announced throughout September and October. On Sept. 28, the city will host a virtual seminar for nonprofits interested in applying for funding, he said.

“These dollars will not just go toward my administration's ideas for a healthier, more equitable and better Baltimore. We also want to use these dollars to fund important community based ideas and initiative,” the Democrat said in livestreamed remarks.

The mayor’s remarks were the first major ARPA update since July, when he appointed Shamiah T. Kerney to lead the ten-person Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs, which oversees proposals and distribution of the funds. They’ll use a rubric weighing a proposed project’s costs, risks and equity impact; the latter is weighed the most heavily. Applications for ARPA funding opened to city agencies over the summer; proposals must cost at least $250,000.

President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law in March. The coronavirus pandemic relief package included $350 billion in State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) – which set aside $641 million for Baltimore.

Some uses for the stimulus money have already been identified. Finance officials set aside about $131 million for budget stabilization. About $50 million of that will be used to balance the fiscal year 2021 budget, which by law may not have a deficit; the rest will be set aside in the event future city budgets are affected by the pandemic. Another $10 million will go toward running the Office of Recovery Programs.

That leaves about $450 million for the ambitious projects Scott promised when the funds were announced. He pledged to create deep investments to bolster equity throughout Baltimore but has declined to delve into the specifics, saying his administration would take its time in deciding how to spend the historic stimulus.

The U.S. Treasury Department is responsible for disbursing and overseeing ARPA funds; the federal agency gave Baltimore the first half of its ARPA funding in the spring. The second half will arrive in mid-2022. By law, Baltimore must commit all of the funds by the end of 2024.

The ARPA stimulus package has fewer strings attached than previous pandemic relief measures, but the Treasury has carved out a few restrictions. The funding cannot be used to reduce taxes, pay legal settlements or fund infrastructure not directly tied to the pandemic. It can go toward public health measures, water and sewer projects and bolstering broadband services.

Some of the ARPA funding was included in Baltimore’s most recent budget, which was passed by the City Council in June. But smaller allocations, such as those city nonprofits will soon compete for, will be disbursed solely by the Scott administration.

On Monday, City Council President Nick Mosby announced he will introduce a bill aiming to establish quarterly ARPA funding oversight hearings. The Democrat has said he thinks the money should go toward one single transformative project, rather than spreading it.

“My main concern — outside of robust community engagement and a public accounting of the data and expenditures — is using the Council’s oversight to make sure this money from the American Rescue Plan is invested rather than simply being spent,” he said in a statement.