This third installment of investigation into how ARPA relief funds are being used is following up from our previous articles on Benton County and Franklin County from last year. We will be presenting demographic information regarding the allocation of funds from one of Benton County’s major ARPA programs: Benton County’s Business Resource Initiative. We will also provide an update regarding Franklin County’s allocation of funds related to its two most significant ARPA projects.
As a reminder from the last article, 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-19, 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.”
At the time of publication, Benton County has been granted $41,625,160, and Franklin County has been granted $18,467,721. 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.
Below is an in-depth update on the allocation of funds from one of Benton County’s largest ARPA related programs, the Business Resource Initiative (BRI).
Small Business Assistance Grants: $3,420,000
Applications for the final round of grants from Benton County’s Business Resource Initiative closed on June 30, 2023. The Chamber of Commerce is currently processing final round applications to be awarded in August 2023. Data provided below is current as of June 27, 2023.
Benton County’s BRI program has helped a wide breadth of small businesses across many industries, with twelve named sectors represented in the first two rounds of applications. A majority of applications have come from the Hospitality & Tourism, Healthcare & Social Services, and Retail sectors, making up 52% of the received applications. Please note that this data does not represent how funds were allocated across industries, but rather the breakdown of applications received by the BRI.
Seven different cities applied for grants from the BRI program as of the end of the second phase of grant awards, while six cities were awarded funds. Funds were awarded fairly proportionally to the percentage of applications by city. Kennewick was the beneficiary of both the highest share of funds and the highest marginal difference between applied for and received funds, having been awarded 55% of grant money through phase two (approximately $1.1 million) while applications from the city total 51% of the total submissions. West Richland was allocated the lowest share of funds relative to their applications submitted. receiving only 4% of the grants available (approximately $80,000) with applications totalling 8% of the aggregated submissions. One of the qualifications for the BRI program states that the business has “Headquarters or main office physically located in Benton County where a majority of employees are assigned.”1 This presumably explains why Franklin County applicants did not receive any funds.
Benton County’s BRI Program has provided a significant level of assistance to members of typically underserved communities through the end of the second application period. Women-owned businesses accounted for 28% of applicants and were awarded 45% of funds (approximately $900,000.) Additionally, Hispanic-owned businesses accounted for 13% of applicants and were awarded 24% of funds (approximately $480,000.) It is important to note that these percentages are relative to the total funds awarded and not to each other, as business owners can be members of multiple demographic communities.
On December 2, 2022, Tumbleweird received the following updates regarding Franklin County’s most significant ARPA projects2:
Franklin County Public Safety Building HVAC Improvements: $2,111,396.01
Franklin County Facilities in contract with DES and working with TRANE will be replacing the dated Pneumatic HVAC system for the Public Safety Building. Cost of $2,111,396.01.
This project consists of removing all old HVAC components from the building and replacing them with new.
The replacement equipment will consist of the VFD’s (variable frequency drives) which control the fans pumps and compressors for the system. The replacement of Pneumatic pressure controls. These are thermostats that control the air temp in the buildings/offices. These will be replaced with electronic thermostats which will tie into the existing software for the Courthouse and Justice Center Building. The improvements will allow for access to the system from remote areas (such as our Facilities office off campus). This will also make it easier for our HVAC contractor to diagnose potential issues or adjust airflow without having to go into each secured office. The VAV boxes, (variable air volume) that diffuses air in specific areas of a large indoor space, will be replaced. The Cooling tower on the roof of the Public Safety Building will be replaced with a larger capacity unit. We will also be replacing the Chiller which is in the basement of the Public safety Building. The replacement chiller also requires new piping to the system contained within the same room.
The HAPO Center HVAC, lighting, energy improvements: $ 6,595,825.06
Franklin County in contract with DES and working with McKinstry. Cost of $6,595,825.06. This project consists of the following:
- Roof Top Units & Makeup Air Units Upgrades (Atrium & Kitchen)
- HVAC & Controls Upgrades (Expo)
- Lighting & Envelope Upgrades
Former Franklin County Administrator Keith Johnson had a significant role in the allocation of the County’s ARPA funds. After surviving multiple termination attempts from the Franklin County Commissioners, Mr. Johnson resigned his position to become the City Manager of Chickasha, Oklahoma. The role of Administrator has been filled by Mike Gonzalez. Tumbleweird has reached out to Mr. Gonzalez on June 23 and July 15. As of the time of this publication, we have not received a response to our request for an update on these projects with current budget estimates and expected completion dates.
Tumbleweird is committed to keeping our readers informed about how our local governments are using COVID relief funds to benefit our communities, and we will continue to report on updates regarding how these dollars are used in subsequent issues.
This research was made possible in part by a generous grant from Inatai Foundation.
Devin McGreal is an economist for Cascade Natural Gas. He is passionate about using data to bring transparency to the world, and to help others understand complex subject matters. In his free time he enjoys playing, writing, and watching others play TTRPGs.