HELENA — As the state of Montana gets ready to start distributing more than $1 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money, the 56 counties will soon be receiving their own pot of money to support recovery.
The federal American Rescue Plan Act, which Congress passed in March, set aside $65.1 billion for counties nationwide. That includes just over $200 million for Montana counties.
The funding was allocated to counties based on their population, with each county receiving approximately $194 per resident. That means Montana’s largest counties will receive the most:
· Yellowstone County: $31,330,634
· Missoula County: $23,230,898
· Gallatin County: $22,227,463
· Flathead County: $20,163,099
· Cascade County: $15,804,392
The 22 smallest counties will each receive less than $1 million, with Petroleum County getting just under $95,000.
Lewis and Clark County is set to receive nearly $13.5 million. Roger Baltz, the county’s chief administrative officer, said they’re excited about the possibilities for this money, but they are waiting for more guidance from the federal government.
“We’re in the process right now of making sure that we thoroughly understand what these funds may or may not be used for, what the qualifying criteria are going to be,” he said.
While the rules haven’t been finalized yet, the U.S. Treasury Department has outlined five general categories for how the money can be used:
· Supporting public health expenditures, like COVID mitigation and some public health staff
· Addressing negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, including to workers, small businesses and heavily impacted industries
· Replacing lost public revenues, to support government services that rely on revenue that didn’t come in during the pandemic
· Providing premium pay for essential workers in critical industries
· Investing in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure
The department says, within those categories, local governments will have “broad flexibility to decide how best to use this funding to meet the needs of their communities.”
While the rules haven’t been finalized, it’s expected counties will have to put all of this money to use by the end of 2024.
Lewis and Clark County leaders are having meetings this week as they start putting together their budget for the next fiscal year. Baltz said they’re not ready to make specific plans for the ARPA money, but it will definitely be a topic of discussion.
“We’re setting aside an afternoon to talk about ARPA funds and what the priorities that the county commissioners might want to be for those funds moving forward,” he said.