FAYETTEVILLE -- The city is ready to dole out most of its American Rescue Plan money now that the federal government has issued final rules.
The city was granted $17.9 million in the federal aid money and has received half the amount. The rest will come sometime this year.
So far, the City Council has authorized use of nearly $2.3 million. The city is using $1.9 million to compensate employees with bonus pay for their service during the covid-19 pandemic.
Another $94,000 has gone toward a regional campaign encouraging people to get vaccinated, headed by the Northwest Arkansas Council.
The city also has made $400,000 available for an incentive program giving residents or people who work in the city $100 to get fully vaccinated.
That leaves about $15.6 million remaining from the total. City officials have spent the past several months collecting proposals from various department heads and advisory panels, based on the interim rules the federal government provided in May. Final rules came out earlier this month.
Cities can spend American Rescue Plan money for four types of needs: responding to the pandemic or its negative economic impact; replacing lost revenue; providing premium pay for essential workers; and improving water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
Mayor Lioneld Jordan said he wants to use the money to take on environmental, economic and social issues. Administrators ended up receiving about $118 million in requests, said Paul Becker, the city's chief financial officer.
The city, like all others, must obligate all of its American Rescue Plan money by 2024 and spend it by 2026. Otherwise the money will have to be returned.
"This is on our front burner now," Chief of Staff Susan Norton told the City Council during an agenda-setting session Tuesday.
The city must closely follow the final rules when deciding how to use the money, Becker said. There are reporting requirements. Any violations could result in the city having to pay money back or the federal government accusing the city of misappropriation, he said.
"Right now, we have to again go through and make sure all the projects that we thought would be considered are eligible under the final rules," Becker said.
The final rules are 437 pages.
The city hopes to launch an online portal for nonprofits and other organizations that support individuals or groups impacted by the pandemic, Norton said. The city could subcontract out efforts with those organizations, but would still have to track the money and would be held responsible for how the money is used, she said.
Norton said the city plans to use the portal to communicate eligibility and reporting requirements to nonprofits and collect potential proposals for city staff to review.
Applications with the rules outlined would be available to the organizations, Norton said. Examples of uses the city has in mind include a child care voucher program for working parents and support for minority and LGBTQ populations hit especially hard by covid because of health and economic status, she said.
Devin Howland, the city's economic vitality director, said administrators also are looking into assisting businesses impacted by covid, particularly those in hospitality and accommodation. Many residents are unemployed or underemployed because of the pandemic, so the city also wants to bolster workforce development, he said.
The administration plans to pare the proposals to those most likely eligible for funding. Then the council will be able to vote on a final package, Norton said. The goal is to have everything ready by spring, she said.
Council Member Sonia Gutiérrez Harvey asked the administration to explore support for the creative economy, which has been one of the hardest hit private sectors, she said. The city has an arts council made up of working artists who can work with city staff on proposals.
Council Member Teresa Turk asked the administration to open the portal to nonprofits who could assist with water quality, in addition to social issues.
Jordan told the council he was open to ideas.
"We need to know what you all are thinking, and we'll see if it lines up with the rules or not," he said. "We're just opening up the conversation and talking points right now to get us down the road to where we need to go."
Cities in Northwest Arkansas will receive the following amounts in American Rescue Plan money:
• Springdale: $21.4 million
• Fort Smith: $21.2 million
• Fayetteville: $17.9 million
• Rogers: $11.7 million
• Bentonville: $6.9 million
• Total: $79.1 million
The Arkansas Municipal League posts regular updates to its website on the federal rules for cities to follow when using the money: https://www.arml.org/resources/american-rescue-plan/
Source: Springdale, Fort Smith, Fayetteville, Rogers and Bentonville