March 11 marks the one-year anniversary of the American Rescue Plan Act- one of the largest funding supports for rural towns and counties across the country. In that time, the program has brought in over $1 billion in federal funds for small towns and rural communities across Iowa.

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According to Matt Hildreth with RuralOrganizing.org, when working with bills that are meant to help rural communities, there wasn’t as much room to help solve local problems.

“There were a lot of good programs that were funded through the Cares Act. But a lot of those programs came with restrictions, and could only be used specifically on explicit COVID response activities,” said Hildreth. “ARPA funds are more flexible, and really allow for local officials to respond to the needs that they're seeing directly in their communities.”

Hildreth has done a lot of research on the ARPA and how the program has impacted Iowa and the rest of the country.

The funds brought Iowa $210 million in investments into rural broadband, $100 million into housing infrastructure, and $100 million in investments in improving water quality.

Cara Galloway, an Ottumwa City Council member, said they reached out to the community to see what they wanted to see the funds spent on.

“Housing is a huge need in our area,” said Galloway. “So we're looking at different projects that we can use for housing and fill that medium density area of need for us because that's our biggest focus right now.”

 

Galloway said that if it weren’t for ARPA funding, they wouldn’t be able to do a project like this.

The funds are available until 2024, added Hildreth, which gives more time for a bottom-up approach.

“We actually see that those funds-the funds that went directly into cities and townships and counties actually benefited rural communities at a higher rate.”

Leaders are looking forward to what else they can accomplish in the coming years.

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