OPINION: ARPA panel members outline process

Happy Anniversary to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA)! It was signed into law on March 11, 2021. As a result, Wallingford received $13,100,000 in federal funds. We know the town wants to put the money to good use, and as members of the ARPA Applications Review Committee, we are doing our part.

The law was intended, broadly speaking, to provide financial relief to a country that was reeling from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. The federal government sent money to states and local governments so they could choose, within limits, how to use the funds to respond to the health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus. Although the rules that control how the ARPA funds must be spent are complicated, figuring out what to do with all that cash is a nice problem to have.

The Wallingford Town Council grappled with this and determined that the funds would be spread between small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and public projects. The specific amounts for each sector will depend upon a process that is now unfolding.

ARPA funding for public projects will be determined in the ordinary course of government business. The council decided, however, that grants to businesses and non-profits should be based upon local criteria and rules for eligibility, which it set, consistent with federal law. It required those seeking ARPA grants to complete applications and provide documentation supporting their requests.

Each councilor and the mayor chose one of us to sit on a committee of 10 members. Our job is to evaluate applications and recommend those that meet Wallingford’s criteria. About 122 applications are eligible for our review.

This is how the process works. To get a grant, a business must show it is currently experiencing financial adversity, a hardship, resulting from the pandemic. It must also demonstrate that its proposed project would help mitigate the impact for the long term a short-term fix would not do. The business must also provide tax returns or a CPA-issued financial statement to support its claim.

A nonprofit, on the other hand, has two pathways for a grant. If it is still financially impacted by the pandemic, it must show the degree to which it has traditionally provided services to residents, members, and others. Additionally, It must show the degree to which the pandemic has impaired its ability to provide those services. It should also provide documentation supporting its plan for spending the money, and the financial information the council required.

A nonprofit that plans to use the money for beneficial programs need not show a hardship. Instead, it should show that its plan for the money will respond to a clearly demonstrated need of those in Wallingford and that it has the experience to run the program. It should also present a reasonable budget that is documented.

We weigh the totality of the evidence presented to us and score the applications based upon how closely they adhere to the criteria the council established.

Our decision-making process begins with the preparation of an agenda, which lists those applications that will be considered at a meeting. Applications are taken in order from a randomized list that has been “scrambled” using a computer application. No one can jump the line. Every applicant is sent an agenda, so it knows when its ARPA request will be handled. The ground rules for our proceedings are on the agenda for all to see.

Our meetings start with an inquiry as to whether any member has a conflict of interest pertaining to any application. Then we work down the list. Each member, in alphabetical order, is assigned an application to initially present. Thereafter, we round-table comments one member at a time. We go around and around as needed, until every member is satisfied that his/her comments are heard and considered.

Then it’s time to evaluate. We use a council-approved matrix to score each application. Members complete the score sheet and pass it to another who announces each member’s score. Another works the adding machine and computes the average of all scores. To be recommended, businesses must attain an average of 70 points or more out of a possible 100. Nonprofits must attain an average of 75 or more. Next, the committee votes to recommend a grant, or not, based upon the average. Results are then forwarded to town government for additional approvals and processing.

You can follow our work. Agendas, minutes, and audio recordings of our meetings are on the town’s website. We appreciate the trust the town has placed in us, and we hope our efforts will be of value to the people of Wallingford — grant recipients, taxpayers, and residents alike.

Carl Bonamico, Mike Brodinsky, chair, Craig Fishbein, Rob Fritz, Bob Gross, Jacqueline McNamee, Chris Regan, Jesse Reynolds and Amy Walsh


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