The Dukes County Commission met on Wednesday afternoon to provide an update on the management of more than $3 million allotted to the county via the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
The federal funds distributed through ARPA offer relief to eligible local and state organizations in order to assist communities that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commission, which has the authority to distribute said funds, has been in the process of strategically putting into place specific criteria — by way of working groups — in order to maximize the impact of the allotment to best benefit Island organizations.
The act categorizes eligibility for the COVID-19 relief funds into four groups, as summarized from the March 11 American Rescue Plan Act 2021 by the DCC:
- To respond to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19 or its negative economic impacts (including assistance to households, businesses, and nonprofits).
- To provide premium pay to employees providing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
- To provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to COVID–19 public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year prior to the emergency.
- To make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.
Tasked with deciding the most impactful and helpful allotment of the funds, the commission has been in the process of narrowing down the specifics to make sure the more than $3 million goes as far as it can. To ensure this, the criteria developed by the working group, per the DCC and counsel, aims to “evaluate potential fund allocations” by application process must show:
- Demonstrated need from COVID-19 impact .
- Ability to mitigate such impacts.
- Ability to multiply/leverage ARPA investment, through matching funds, grants, state aid, etc.
- Potential return on investment (to be defined).
- Opportunity to make fundamental change on a countywide level.
In terms of the commission’s update on the management of the funds, “I think we’re ready to go,” said commissioner Leon Brathwaite, who has been involved in the working group in developing an application system for grantees hoping to get a piece of the funds.
Commissioner Peter Wharton, also part of the working group, seconded that although progress has been made in creating the application process, there is a responsibility to ensure all t’s are crossed and i’s dotted. “We’ve looked at it [with] as close of a lens as we could, with sensitivities that we may have,” he said, referring to the working group’s 32-page draft. Still, Wharton raised concerns of intent and verbiage of the federal act, specifically regarding nondiscriminatory use of funds, to which he noted that the county ought to include “gender identity and sexual orientation” to the exisiting phrasing of “race, color, national origin, and religion.”
“Federal language doesn’t think about that,” said Wharton, noting that Martha’s Vineyard is a progressive Island, and should take all possible steps to avoid discriminatory allocation of funds. “I hope we caught everything,” he said, adding that the commission should take some time to review the application documents further before voting for approval. Once approved by the commission, the actual applications for grant funds can be considered and checks can be written to those in dire need of COVID-19 relief.
Commission chair Christine Todd, while agreeing with a final review, pushed for completion in order to finally be able to distribute the ARPA funds.
There are currently three applications waiting for consideration. Applications submitted by Martha’s Vineyard Commission, Martha’s Vineyard Airport, and Island Health Care request financial relief for wastewater, enhancement of septic systems, and reimbursement of COVID-19 testing equipment, respectively.
The commission projects official adoption of finalized documents within the next two weeks.