Guide to Local Recovery Update: Sept. 21

Sep 21, 2022

Applications are now open for two federal grant programs — one for rural broadband infrastructure and one for transportation technology. The National League of Cities (NLC) released several recovery resources for cities, including a Uniform Guidance checklist and public safety workforce study. NLC will also host a Sept. 29 webinar on electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a first-of-its-kind cybersecurity grant program.

USDA rolls out rural broadband infrastructure program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting applications for its rural broadband program, ReConnect. Funds can be used to construct, improve, or acquire broadband facilities and equipment in rural areas without sufficient broadband access. The program’s funding was increased by $1 billion through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Eligible applicants include local governments, as well as cooperatives and corporations. Applicants must serve a rural area where high-speed internet service — defined as 100 megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds and 20 Mbps upload speeds — is not available.

USDA has made several improvements to the ReConnect Program. Collectively, these improvements increase the availability of funding in rural areas where residents and businesses lack access to affordable, high-speed internet. They include:

  • Allowing applicants to serve areas where at least 50% of households lack sufficient access to high-speed internet.
  • Adding a funding category for projects where 90% of households lack sufficient access to high-speed internet. For applications submitted under this category, no matching funds will be required.
  • Waiving the matching funds requirement for tribal governments, projects proposing to serve persistent poverty counties, and projects proposing to provide service in socially vulnerable communities.

    The program offers grants, loans, and loan-grant combinations; however, applicants can only submit one application for one of the five funding options. Up to $200 million is available for grants. Applications can be submitted online until Nov. 2, 11:59 p.m. EST. 

New program to provide $100 million annually for infrastructure technology

The federal infrastructure bill also established the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grants Program. The transportation infrastructure program will offer up to $100 million in grants annually over the next five years. 

Focusing on building data and technology capacity and expertise, the SMART program will fund purpose-driven innovation. The program is seeking proposals from public sector entities that will carry out demonstration projects to address the following transportation priorities:

  • Vehicle technology, like automation and connectivity.
  • New ways to monitor and manage infrastructure, such as sensors. 
  • Systems innovation, like delivery and logistics, traffic signals, smart grid, and data integration.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s website includes several use cases that could be eligible for SMART grants. Part of the funding will be directed specifically to rural and mid-sized communities.

Two or more eligible entities can apply through a single lead applicant or as individual applicants. The deadline to apply is Nov. 18 at 5:00 p.m. EST.

NLC resources: federal grant rules checklist, public safety workforce study, and EV charging webinar

The National League of Cities (NLC) released several recovery resources for cities, including a Uniform Guidance checklist. Except for a few noted exceptions, cities must adhere to Uniform Guidance when utilizing federal funding, including American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars. 

Although the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Final Rule outlines eligible uses and restrictions for ARPA funding, it does not go into detail about Uniform Guidance regulations and practices. The checklist includes guidelines to follow when pursuing a program, issuing a contract to a contractor, providing an award to a sub-recipient, and more. 

NLC also released a detailed analysis about how cities are investing ARPA funds in response to municipal public safety labor trends. Public safety positions have become the hardest local government jobs to fill. The Police Executive Research Forum found that peace officer hirings have declined slightly while resignations and retirements have increased sharply. Similarly, a MissionSquare survey discovered that 57% of local governments view dispatch jobs as difficult to fill; 38% identified firefighting/emergency medical roles as difficult to fill. 

Additionally, NLC is hosting an electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure webinar on Sept. 29. The EV charging network will be one of the most transformational and visible investments from the recent federal infrastructure package. This webinar will focus on cities’ EV questions — where to start, what grants are available, what coordination is needed, and what to plan for as EVs are integrated into the transportation system. 

The webinar was part of the Ready to Rebuild series, which is available to watch on-demand after airing. 

DHS unveils cybersecurity grant program

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a first-of-its-kind cybersecurity grant program. The number of cyberattacks on local governments has increased dramatically, many of them threatening critical infrastructure, such as 911 call centers. 

Funded by the federal infrastructure bill, the State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Program will provide $183.5 million in 2022, with at least $2 million going to each state. Once states receive their funds, they will need to deliver at least 80% to local governments, 25% of which must go to “rural areas.” Those funds will then be spent on “targeted cybersecurity investments.” Although cities are ineligible to apply for this funding, they will ultimately receive much of the funding through sub-awards.

City officials looking for additional information about the American Rescue Plan Act, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or additional recovery tools can visit the Cal Cities Guide to Local Recovery portal.