Foundation will help hand out COVID-19 funding

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GREENFIELD — The Hancock County Community Foundation has been tapped to play a role in the distribution of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funds and will help county government vet nonprofit organizations that could receive major funding boosts to start new projects.

The foundation will help guide the decision-making process about how to spend approximately $3 million of the county’s total $15 million in ARP funds. That’s the amount county leaders have earmarked for nonprofits. The rest of the funds will be divided between infrastructure work and mental health programs.

Commissioner Marc Huber said working with the foundation to identify the best candidates for funding made perfect sense to the county commissioners.

“The community foundation’s just got a great system, and they’ve done it for a long, long time, vetting organizations and reaching out to people,” Huber said.

The ARP Act, a federal program approved by Congress and President Joe Biden, awarded billions of dollars to local units of government to assist in recovering from the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. Communities can use it for a variety of purposes, including addressing underlying problems that led to unequal outcomes during the pandemic. The city of Greenfield and towns in Hancock County are also in the process of deciding how to spend their ARP dollars.

The county government will have the final decision on awarding the funds, but it will be done with input from foundation staff. The foundation will get the message out to local nonprofits, administer the application process, and follow up with grant recipients. The county will handle grant disbursement and report back to the U.S. Treasury.

“We are proud to bring our nonprofit grantmaking expertise to the table in this once-in-a-lifetime funding opportunity,” foundation president Mary Gibble said in a press release. “We are dedicated to ensuring a smooth, equitable application and decision-making process. We are eager to see these dollars have a transformative and lasting impact in our community.”

The application process begins with submitting a letter of intent, which organizations can do at the foundation’s website, givehcgrowhc.org. Organizations will have until March 1, 2022, to submit that letter, outlining their goals and what they’d like to do with the money. Those found to qualify for ARP funding will be invited to submit a full application in spring of 2022.

There is no minimum or maximum amount that can be requested for a project, and organizations are welcome to submit more than one letter of intent for different initiatives.

Huber said the decisions on awards will likely be made primarily by the county commissioners, but they want the county council to be involved as well. County attorney Scott Benkie and financial adviser Greg Guerrettaz will also consult on the process.

Since the first phase of the application process will be the submission of a letter of interest, Huber aims to make sure as many organizations as possible are involved at that point. He wants the county to consider diverse projects, both big and small.

Huber said there could be multiple rounds of grant applications for the money, and the county likely wouldn’t hand it out all at once. After going through the foundation’s vetting process, applicants who aren’t selected in the first round could have a head start on the second round.

“The county’s not even received 100% of the ARP funds, so we’ve got to watch a little so we don’t overcommit,” he said.

County council member Jim Shelby said the county’s decisions about how to spend ARP funds are still in the early stages. Major decisions haven’t been made about how to spend the remaining $12 million, other than it will go toward supporting infrastructure and mental health.

“We haven’t really put meat on the bones for those three sectors, we’ve just identified the sectors we want to put dollars towards,” Shelby said.

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