Montgomery County calls on residents and organizations to submit ideas for American Rescue Plan funding

With $161 million to disburse, the county will host three town halls next week, in person and virtually, to offer more details on the process.

Norristown, Pa. in Montgomery County. (Wikimedia Commons)

Norristown, Pa. in Montgomery County. (Wikimedia Commons)

Montgomery County is calling on individuals, grassroots organizations, neighborhood groups, nonprofits, and for-profit groups to apply for American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Projects or ideas in need of financial boosts can be submitted through the county’s online application portal from Feb. 28 to April 30.

With $161 million in American Rescue Plan funds to disburse, the county’s Recovery Office says it intends to use the money according to guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

The funding was created as a result of the pandemic emergency, with four tenets in mind: responding to the negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic; providing essential worker premium pay; replacing lost public revenue; and investing in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure. The money is also meant to address health disparities, housing instability, educational disparities, child care access, and more.

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Montgomery County has scheduled three town halls, all of which will be streamed on Zoom and also take place in person — at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 22, Feb. 23 (in Spanish only), and Feb. 24 — to discuss in detail how individuals and organizations can submit ideas or projects for consideration.

Residents can share general feedback on how they think the county should use the funds on the county Recovery Office’s website.

Tom Bonner, director of the Recovery Office, said Thursday that the county is “specifically interested in ensuring that the pandemic recovery funds are used to ensure an equitable recovery, given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic and the economic crisis on certain demographic groups, neighborhoods, and industries in the last two years.”

According to Bonner, the Recovery Office can help organizations and individuals develop their ideas. They can also submit projects that they can either carry out independently or that are in need of the county’s assistance with implementation.

“We want ideas that are fully baked and ones that haven’t been contemplated before,” said Bonner.

Manna on Main Street in Lansdale, a nonprofit food pantry and soup kitchen that also helps residents receive emergency rental assistance, is interested in applying for funds.

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Sheldon C. Good, Manna’s director of development and strategic direction, said need in the county is continuing to rise.

“We have seen significantly increased demand for emergency food in the North Penn region, as well as across Montgomery County throughout the pandemic,” said Good.

According to Feeding America, in 2019 the food insecurity rate in Montgomery County was 6.9, which translated to 56,820 people in need. Feeding America projects the rate rose in 2021 to 8.3%.

Good said Manna has provided roughly twice as many meals and groceries to neighbors in need than it did pre-pandemic. In 2021, Manna served 89,400 meals. Prior to the pandemic, it served 38,902 meals. Pounds of groceries delivered by Manna have also almost doubled, to  898,260 pounds in 2021, from 555,760 pounds in 2019.

“What we know is that the cost of goods continues to rise, and that has a disproportionate impact on low-income households,” Good said. “And unemployment is still a significant challenge, housing affordability continues to increase as a challenge in Montgomery County and the North Penn region.”

Good has some questions about the American Rescue Plan Act application and implementation process. He wants to know more about how the county will prioritize and evaluate submissions.

If the county is “committed to using the funds in a ‘bold, innovative, and equitable manner,’ what does that mean in terms of how they are evaluating submissions?” Good asked.

Bonner said that throughout the community input process over the last seven months, the county has developed a scoring process for applications. Further details on the scoring process will soon be released.

Good also wondered how much assistance the county is committed to providing for the development of ideas and projects: “What does that look like?”

In response, Bonner said the county has contracted with a “third-party technical assistance provider whose central charge is to eliminate barriers to submission.” The provider is supposed to help “[enable] more community-generated ideas and projects.”

By May, the Recovery Office is slated to present a draft plan for the funds open to community feedback. By June, the final plans will be adopted, and by July, projects will begin implementation.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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