In this first installment, we’ll be reporting on Benton County. The next article will focus on Franklin County.
While many people can relate to the personal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the plight of small business owners both nationwide and in our communities can sometimes go unnoticed. One local business owner, Aubrieann Johnson of Aub’s Bananza Bread, explains: “The pandemic has forever changed the way some people shop. I feel some people would rather avoid unnecessary trips out to avoid potential exposure, so they resort to online and delivery services (still to this day). Let's face it; some people still cringe and move away when someone has a sneezing fit from allergies, and I don't blame them one bit. We all just want to be safe and healthy.” She says that face-to-face customer interaction is very important to her business. “My success is partially dependent upon people coming out, seeing, smelling, tasting, and fully experiencing my bread.”
Aubrieann is not alone in the challenges her business faces, partly due to the pandemic. Many struggling shop owners in our community are looking to both the federal and local governments to see what programs are out there to help their businesses stay afloat.
The American Recovery Plan Act, or ARPA, was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021. The bill provided $1.9 Trillion in economic relief to those impacted by COVID-191, including $350 Million to state, local, and Tribal governments across the country as part of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) program. The Department of the Treasury states that one of the objectives of this program is to “fight the pandemic and support families and businesses struggling with its public health and economic impacts.”2 These funds have powerful potential to help small business owners like Aubrieann survive this unprecedented pandemic, so we at Tumbleweird want to make sure our readers are aware of how the funds granted to Benton and Franklin Counties are being allocated, as well as any opportunities for financial recovery that may be available to those who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
At the time of publication, Benton County has been granted $41,625,1603, and Franklin County has been granted $18,467,7214. These funds must be allocated by 2024, and spent by 2026. Both counties have elected to take advantage of a provision in the SLFRF program that allows them to allocate $10,000,000 of their granted funds to replace lost public sector revenue. This option is considered a standard allowance, so the counties do not have to provide a breakdown of how these funds will be used.5 For the remaining funds, we will be providing in-depth breakdowns of how the two counties plan to use their allotted funds as this information becomes available to us.
Crosscut.com has some details about planned expenditures from Franklin County Administrator Keith Johnson. According to Johnson, “About $8 million was committed to renovate a complex of buildings that houses the courthouse and jail, and about $700,000 went to the sheriff’s department to purchase a mobile command trailer, body armor, insurance, equipment, and fuel (including $8,000 for new tasers and guns).”6 It is not clear if these plans are part of the $10,000,000 standard allowance or an allocation of the remaining funds. Since Tumbleweird acquired a breakdown of Franklin County’s budget7 for received ARPA funds after the deadline for this article, we will be following up with Franklin County for more information about their plans, and we plan to report about their proposed allocations in a future edition.
The following infographic is a visualization of data pulled from Benton County’s American Rescue Plan Act Summary as of August 31, 2022.3 This document separates the funds into money that has already been spent (referred to as “Actuals”) and money that is budgeted but not yet spent (referred to as “Pending”). While much of the already allocated money has been spent on payroll costs related to mitigating and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a number of proposed projects that may have a significant impact on our community.
Benton County actual ARPA funds spending
• Office of Public Defense: $263
• Pop-up vaccination clinic: $1500
• IT Security: $80,707
• Coroner’s Office: $57
Benton County pending ARPA funds spending
• Office of Public Defense: $199,737
• Clerk’s Office: $287,548
• IT Security: $122,293
• Coroner’s Office: $149,943
• Planning/Building/Public Works: $323,097
• Benton-Franklin Council of Governments: $250,000
• Auditors Office: $75,000
The graphic to the above shows Benton County’s pending ARPA spending.
Below is more information about three of the significant pending projects:
Small Business Assistance Grants – $3,420,000: Benton County, in conjunction with the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, has launched the Business Resource Initiative,8 a program aimed to help small businesses get back on track with grants ranging from $3,000 to $30,000. Grant recipients can spend the money on one of five expenditure options:
- Workforce Development: New and existing employee certifications/upskilling programs, or payroll assistance for on-the-job training
- Workforce Incentives: Hiring bonuses to help cover costs associated with new jobs such as childcare or transportation
- Rent and/or Utility Assistance
- Digital Transformation: Development of online presence, innovative software, and technological upgrades
- Outdoor Space Enhancement: Storefront and outdoor utilization improvement projects
Business owners can check if they are eligible for the program by going to https://bentonbri.com. Benton County will be awarding $3,000,000 total in grants through three application periods. The first one runs from October 1 – October 31, 2022; the second is from February 1 – February 28, 2023; and the final one is from June 1 – June 30, 2023. Benton County has released a flyer with this information and more, in both English and Spanish.9
Two of the major upcoming projects in Benton County are the Regional Behavioral Health Recovery Center and the Juvenile Justice Center Remodel.
Regional Behavioral Health Recovery Center: $5,000,000
From the Benton County ARPA Summary: “Benton County has obligated $5 million to the Three Rivers Behavioral Health Recovery Center, which will be an up to 50-bed facility designed to serve persons in mental health or substance use disorder crisis. The facility will operate on a ‘No Wrong Door’ model providing 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year services offered as an alternative to arrest and incarceration in the County jail or being brought to hospital emergency rooms.”
Additionally, according to a grant application to the Washington State Department of Commerce: “Through the ‘No Wrong Door’ approach, anyone experiencing a behavioral health crisis can receive crisis triage and stabilization services along with substance use withdrawal management services. This facility will accept voluntary and involuntary clients, including those that may be physically aggressive or are actively under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.”10
The total projected cost of this facility is approximately $14,180,000, and the County expects to fund the remaining balance through a mix of grants and capital budget appropriations.11 The County is still looking for a location to build this center.
Juvenile Justice Center Remodel: $10,000,000
From the Benton County ARPA Summary : “This project is for the remodel and upgrade of the Benton Franklin Counties Juvenile Justice Center. The remodel will address the antiquated HVAC system as well as other building systems, along with reconfiguration of the facilities to promote continuous operation during public health emergencies.”
These programs provide hope to individuals who have been impacted hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to businesses like Aub’s Bonanza Bread, that hope to adapt to the ‘new normal’ presented by this pandemic. With programs like the Small Business Assistance Grants (see below), Aubrieann Johnson says she can meet some of her goals, which include:
- Stockpiling the necessary ingredients (dry and canned non-perishables) that would allow her to sustain her business in the event of another shipping or product availability crisis
- Upgrading her current market stall with simple things — like flooring, lighting, and seating
- Expanding her online presence, make a greater reach nationwide
- Hiring additional employees so she can have a presence at more local events like festivals and expos
- Purchasing her own ovens so she can have her own brick and mortar location instead of renting a shared space
- Getting additional gear for events
“Funds from the county would help me in EVERY way!”
- American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 - Wikipedia
- Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds | U.S. Department of the Treasury
- 2022 ARPA Summary - Benton County
- SLFRF-Final-Rule-Overview.pdf (treasury.gov)
- October 26, 2021 Commissioners Meeting Minutes (PDF)
- BRI Press Release
- BRI Flyer
- Three Rivers Behavioral Health Recovery Center Application
- Funding Summary
This work was made possible by the generous support of Group