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Columbia makes ARPA application records more transparent


The City of Columbia is moving to make the application process for American Rescue Plan Act money more open after a city council vote.

On Monday night the Columbia City Council approved a motion to make the records related to funding applications more transparent. A motion proposed by Ward 1 Councilman Nick Knoth that asked the city to partially open ARPA application records was approved. 

“It’s all about transparency," Knoth said during an interview with ABC 17 News. “Not only did I campaign on that and it’s a priority that I heard frequently from my constituents in the First Ward but also from around our community including organizations themselves. There’s just kind of a lack of transparency regarding the city's ARPA process, especially compared to other municipalities.” 

Columbia does not allow the public to see who applied for ARPA funding. This is despite the fact that Boone County has open records about who had applied for a share of APPA funding. After submitting a request through Sunshine Law, the Boone County Commission sent ABC 17 News a PDF that included the hundreds of businesses that have applied for funding.

Knoth says the request to partially open records instead of making them fully transparent like the rest of Boone County was done on purpose. 

“My motion did not change the process that was in place and that was on purpose," Knoth. "I think it’s important that we respect the process that’s already in place and at the same time protect the integrity of that. Our applicants for the ARPA funds submitted their applications with the belief of the current process in place and an understanding that would not change. 

“While I would have liked to have done things differently from the very beginning, we are too far into this to suddenly change course.” 

The American Rescue Plan Act was signed into law on March 11, 2021. It provided state and local governments $350 billion in additional funding for state and local governments in the wake of losses suffered during the COVID pandemic. 

Columbia was awarded $25.2 million. The City Council set priorities on mental health care, homelessness, community violence and workforce development for the first half of the funding. 

The Department of Public Health and Human Services led a community engagement process to identify some community funding priorities for the second half of the funding. They looked over 4,470 surveys, held 12 focus groups to collect input and presented the findings to the City Council in November. 

The council determined health and mental health access, workforce development and support access to services, and once again homelessness, as the properties for the second half of funding. 

Once the city opened up applications, it received 91 letters of intent submitted by 58 organizations for a total of just under $93 million in requests. 

The requests were scored by an internal review committee by staff. The criteria for scoring was published on Applicants that scored at or above the average score were invited and met the ARPA eligibility requirements were invited to move toward the next phase. 

The 46 letters of intent that scored at or above average equaled $39.81 million in funding requests, which was still above the city's $25.2 million allocated in funds. 

Here is the breakdown of those 46 letters of intent: 

  • Six -- access to services 
  • Four -- affordable housing
  • Eight -- community violence 
  • Eight -- homelessness 
  • One -- mental health 
  • Five that fit multiple priority areas 
  • Six -- workforce development 
  • Eight -- workforce support

These organizations have until June 9 to submit proposals. They will be reviewed by an external ARPA committee in July and will have recommendations to the Council in August. Columbia must expend the funds by the end of 2026 or they will have to pay them back to the U.S. government.

Check back for updates to this developing story.

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Mitchell Kaminski

Mitchell Kaminski is from Wheaton, Illinois. He earned a degree in sports communication and journalism from Bradley University. He has done radio play-by-play and co-hosts a Chicago White Sox podcast.


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