Barnstable County Making Plans to Spend Federal COVID Money

Barnstable County Commissioners Mark Forest, Ronald Bergstrom and Sheila Lyons.

HYANNIS – Barnstable County Regional Commissioners recently reviewed the role of the proposed advisory committee that will assist in the distribution of approximately $41 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The commissioners previously proposed that a quarter of the funds would be distributed by application to the 15 towns in the region, with $1.7 million—about 4 percent—of the funds going towards administrative costs. 

The rest was proposed to be utilized on projects of wide-ranging regional impact, such as water quality or infrastructure affecting all towns. 

ARPA funds must be spent on specific categories related to the public health response to COVID and economic or other recovery from the pandemic. 

Projects of regional impact would be determined and recommended to the commissioners and Assembly of Delegates by the committee, said Deputy Director of the county Department of Human Services Vaira Harik.

“They would have a regional approach to the projects and priorities that they are considering—and potentially sub-regional focus as well: upper, middle, lower and outer Cape. Their work would be data-informed and evidence-based, and would do a lot of work on collecting relevant information about regional projects that would be of import,” said Harik.

“There would be an equity-related focus to recommendations and criteria for deciding on projects for recommended funding. It would also need to address vulnerable populations and populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic. That needs to be a consideration that we hold at the forefront.”

She highlighted transparency as part of the advising process for the five to 10 member committee. 

She also added that the committee will not decide applications, and just advise. 

Up to seven months may be necessary to perform their task, said Harik.

Barnstable County Administrator Beth Albert emphasized a slow, comprehensive approach to ensure that money not designated for direct distribution to towns can go towards projects that benefit the region as a whole.

Commissioner Ronald Bergstrom said that he believed in expediency, as many towns already have shovel-ready projects and upcoming annual town meetings that could use the information on exactly how much money they will receive as part of their planning. 

Albert said that funds from other state or federal sources may be available for certain projects that could also be covered by the ARPA money, so the county should be mindful to use the funds in the most efficient way possible to avoid under- or over-funding certain investments.

The Assembly of Delegates recently accepted an ordinance to distribute $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds received by Barnstable County directly to Cape Cod towns—double the funds proposed by Commissioners.

About Grady Culhane

Grady Culhane is a Cape Cod native from Eastham. He studied media communications at Cape Cod Community College and joined the News Center in 2019.
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