Manchin

Gayle Manchin was sworn in in May as the 13th federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission.

CHARLESTON — For any locality wanting help in managing and maximizing the benefits of funding from the American Rescue Plan, a program is in the works to provide that help.

The Appalachian Regional Commission is in the process of finding an organization to design and execute a “Community Capacity-Building Pilot” that will help local officials plan for projects using the ARP money.

The program aims to position Appalachian communities for long-term success in “managing projects that meet the greatest needs and enhance economic growth.”

Gayle Manchin, federal co-chair of the ARC, said it’s all about providing support and guidance for communities in determining and executing projects.

“American Rescue Plan Act funding presents a rare opportunity to spark transformative economic change in our Appalachian communities,” she said. “Local governments and local development districts in Appalachia are in need of tangible best practices and guidance regarding the most effective ways to deploy ARPA funding. We at ARC are perfectly positioned to support forums that cultivate networking and inform key stakeholders about how ARPA funding can be leveraged to not only aid in recovery from the impacts of the pandemic, but also spark long-term economic transformation. This initiative is a critical step in ARC’s longer-term vision to build community capacity in the region.”

“We are taking a look at it,” Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett said. “We are open to any extra resources.”

The county is already working with the state auditor’s office, he said, and “has a handle” on the process and how the money can be spent following federal guidelines.

“We talked to Gayle (Manchin) about three weeks ago about where we are and where we are going,” he said, adding that having the resources of an organization like the ARC that focuses on rural areas is a big plus.

Mercer County has already received $5.7 million, half of the $11.4 million total allocated to the county. The other half will be received next year.

No specific plans on where the money will go have been made.

Puckett, who is a member of the National Association of Counties (NACo) and chair of the rural caucus committee, said that is a process that involves many variables, including finding out how much of the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill, if it passes, will be allocated to roads and broadband.

“Especially broadband,” he said, because that is an area that all rural areas need help and one of the initial uses considered for the ARP money.

But Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said recently the $65 billion for broadband in the infrastructure bill should be enough to bring broadband access to the “last person” in the state.

“I do believe we can get to that last person,” she said. “I am really excited about it, but we’ve go to make sure to keep in focused on where the need is, and a lot of that is in West Virginia.”

If enough money is included in that bill to complete broadband, the ARP money can be directed to other needs.

Puckett also sees the ARC program possibly helping with using those funds for regional projects.

All counties, cities and towns are receiving ARP funding, so any projects that can have more bang for the buck working together would benefit everyone, he added.

Puckett said the process to decide and then implement projects whether regional or local will take awhile.

Decisions must be made and public input sought as well as working with the auditor’s office to make sure all projects fit within the federal guidelines of how the money should be spent.

“We won’t see anything started this year,” he said, adding that all the money will be received by 2022 and must be used by 2026.

The ARC pilot program will consist of three key components: 

• Creation and rollout of trainings designed for Local Development Districts, local elected officials and their staff, 

• Identification and management of a bench of vendors that will provide technical assistance services to local governments seeking to strategically deploy ARPA funding.

• Facilitation of ARPA best practice sharing among LDDs.

“The American Rescue Plan Act is giving communities across Appalachia the chance to make once-in-a-lifetime investments and reignite their regional economies,” said ARC States’ Co-Chair, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. “This program is designed to give local officials the tools they need to deploy these funds efficiently and equitably, so that every part of the region emerges stronger from this pandemic.” 

The company selected for the pilot program contract will oversee organizing and executing the overall program, including managing all research, logistics, content development, training delivery, continued best practice documentation and facilitation and program evaluation. Training forums for LDDs, local elected officials and their staff are expected to launch in fall of 2021. 

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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