The Kansas City skyline.
(File photo) The federal COVID relief, which is funneled through state governments, was dedicated to helping cities make up for revenue lost in the pandemic, fill gaps in public health spending and boost funding for  infrastructure upgrades. 

For months, cities across Missouri and the Kansas City region have been eyeing the billions of dollars sent to states as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, an effort by the federal government to provide some relief from the strains caused by COVID-19.

The money is so expansive that many city officials see it as an opportunity for transformative investment in their communities. 

“The ARPA funds present several opportunities as well as challenges for KCMO,” Kansas City, Missouri, said in a report on its plans for the relief. “These funds are an opportunity to make KCMO an inclusive, successful metropolitan area with thriving businesses and sheltered and employed residents. The funding will keep the people of the City safe far beyond the public health crisis.” 

The federal COVID relief, which is funneled through state governments, was dedicated to helping cities make up for revenue lost in the pandemic, fill gaps in public health spending and boost funding for  infrastructure upgrades. 

The first portion of the money was allocated across the state in budgets for 2022. Now, as the 2023 fiscal year approaches, cities are evaluating what additional projects this second round of money could make possible.

What does the federal relief look like in Missouri?

Missouri was awarded about $2.7 billion in fiscal recovery funds under the federal COVID relief. Counties and cities also received sums separate from that amount. Breaking down the money for distribution across different projects was a big priority in the Missouri legislature in 2022, as the state stared at a record-breaking $49 billion budget, largely bolstered by federal dollars. 

The budget, which includes details about how the COVID relief funds will be used in Missouri, has yet to receive a signature from Gov. Mike Parson; he must sign or veto the bills on his desk by July 1. At the beginning of the legislative session, Parson submitted a wish list for the money to the state legislature, which set aside millions for broadband expansion, infrastructure upgrades and spending to improve public health. 

Cities will be able to submit grant applications for the statewide money, with some programs requiring a 50% local match. Only some applications are currently open, such as water, wastewater, stormwater and lead service line replacement grant programs, but more will open as soon as July 1 after the budget is finalized. 

Apart from the  pot of ARPA money coming to Missouri’s counties and cities through grants from the state, local governments received amounts directly from the federal government to further aid in COVID relief.

In the Kansas City region, Jackson County was awarded $136.5 million from ARPA, Clay County $48.5 million, Cass County $20.5 million and Platte County $20.3 million. Cities with populations greater than 50,000 received individual sums, as well. 

Initial use of the ARPA funds was meant to help local governments across Missouri make up for loss of revenue in the pandemic.  Money in the first round of spending was also dedicated to improving public health services. Kansas City, for example, funneled much of its first allocation to supporting housing accessibility and coronavirus testing and vaccination resources. 

Details for exactly how the second round of COVID relief will be spent in Missouri aren’t required to be nailed down until Dec. 31, 2024, and the money must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026. Zach Walker, the city manager in Independence, said the extended timeline has left some room for ambiguity. 

“It is interesting, because it seems like due to the fact that the federal spending requirements deadlines are still several years out, there isn’t as big of a sense of urgency,” Walker told The Beacon. “Now, the fog is starting to lift on this. We’re seeing at least the makings of some of these opportunities.” 

How can cities get the money?

Cities are assessing how to spend the second half of their payouts from the federal government, while weighing which grants to apply for with the state’s cut of that same money.

The Lee’s Summit City Council met Tuesday night to discuss its $8.3 million sum.  More than 80 potential projects, totaling more than $32 million, were submitted for consideration by the City Council. The city will now have to weigh priorities for the dollars. 

Lee’s Summit used a scoring process to assess the city’s needs.

“A low score in this does not mean that a project isn’t a good project or is not deserving of funding,” Ryan Elam, the director of development services, said during Tuesday’s meeting. “All it really means is that it didn’t align as well with the stated criteria as perhaps some other projects did. All the projects identified all have a need and they’re all worthy projects needing some sort of funding.” 

Lee’s Summit Mayor Bill Baird pointed to the opportunity to have a “significant” impact when using some of the money to fund affordable housing projects, something the city hasn’t invested in for almost three decades. 

“Put aside some money for affordable housing,” Baird said. “Let’s do the first affordable housing project development in the last 27 years. And I think that would be monumental – significant – as far as a statement that we make.” 

What projects are available?

Aside from individual projects that counties and cities can pursue with their own payouts of the ARPA money, grants are available through the state for a number of infrastructure projects. 

So far, applications are only open for water-related projects. Those applications close on July 14, according to Missouri’s ARPA spending webpage

New project opportunities will start opening up in July. Applications for grants related to Missouri’s workforce will be in the next phase of funding, including programs geared toward career centers, workforce development programs and agricultural innovation. 

Funding for other programs will start to become available on Sept.1, such as grants for long-term care facilities, emergency medical services, fire protection and public safety. Timelines are not yet available for other applications, such as expanding the state’s cell tower services, broadband, local tourism, entertainment, community partnerships, nonprofits, small businesses and industrial site development. 

According to the state’s website, preference will be given to applications that best fit project needs, affordability and financial and engineering capability. Walker, the city manager in Independence, said the city has been diligent in preparing to apply for the funds. 

“We are very anxious to figure out what that means and what that looks like, because this is really a once-in-a-career kind of thing that we’re seeing — this amount of money available with really as few restrictions,” he said. “It’s not wide open, but it’s as close to wide open as you can get.” 

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MEG CUNNINGHAM is The Beacon’s Missouri Statehouse reporter. Previously, Meg worked as a national politics reporter for ABC News in Washington, D.C., where she covered campaigns and elections. Meg is...