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Local Iowa Workforce Development office works to get word to towns about ARPA funds

Published: Aug. 6, 2021 at 9:51 PM CDT
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - Thursday night, officials at the City of Ottumwa held a town hall to hear ideas for spending American Rescue Plan funds. The City has $3.6 million to spend by 2024.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was signed by the President in March, and the money is now available for counties and towns to take advantage of.

However, Krista Tedrow of Southern Iowa Workforce Development discovered a problem: smaller towns didn’t know they could get money, and the way to get it seemed complex. And she says, when the steps get complex, “when we have opportunities we don’t know what it can be used for, it becomes a challenge of ‘do I even apply’.”

Any town with a population of less than 50,000 had to apply to the state, whereas larger towns got the money directly from the federal government. Tedrow says it’s a step of bureaucracy that’s limiting smaller towns without the resources of those larger cities.

And those funds could be needed, especially as towns have a lot of options on how to use those funds. For instance, Ottumwa Mayor Tom Lazio describes his first thought when he saw the money. “One of the first things I thought of was helping with how do we get more broadband, because it’s been a real issue for families.” Other funding ideas could be childcare, education, mental health, economic revitalization. Tedrow says the funds are very flexible.

But finding out many towns didn’t know about the funding gave Tedrow an idea - creating a Rural Resilience Office to connect all the towns in its 14-county area. “Realizing that there was an unawareness of funds and a capacity challenge, even just for the cities that could apply for dollars. We said we want to be able to be part of the solution.”

Tedrow says Governor Reynolds was allocated over a billion dollars for fiscal recovery. She hopes the Rural Office could be one of those. Census data shows rural areas could have a harder time recovering from the pandemic - and Tedrow wants to make sure rural areas have the best shot they can at recovery.

Tedrow says the ARPA funds have been called a “once in a lifetime opportunity. So how are we making sure we’re taking full advantage of that?”

Mayor Lazio agrees, saying the City “wants to leverage our money so we get the biggest bang for our buck.”

Public schools and colleges also get funding through the American Rescue Plan. Indian Hills Community College is getting $7.2 million. The Ottumwa Community School District is getting nearly $15 million. They will announce their spending plan at next Monday’s board meeting.

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