Bangor City Manger Debbie Laurie (right) listens during a council workshop, March 13, 2023. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

Local organizations can apply beginning Monday morning for a piece of the $20 million-plus Bangor received in federal pandemic relief funds.

Online applications for Bangor’s American Rescue Plan Act funding will open to the public at 8 a.m. Monday, April 3. The online application window will close at 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 26.

The launch of the city’s formal application process comes nearly two years after Bangor received the first portion of its $20.8 million lump sum from the American Rescue Plan Act in May 2021. While Bangor has largely held onto its award, other Maine communities have been distributing their pots of pandemic relief money.

The city is enlisting the help of the Heart of Maine United Way — previously called the United Way of Eastern Maine — to accept and screen applications and make recommendations based on the city’s criteria. That assistance will cost $9,850, which will come out of the city’s ARPA administrative allowance, City Manager Debbie Laurie said.

“Right now, the city doesn’t have the staff — nor does the council have the time — to do any of this with the level of thoroughness that it deserves,” Councilor Jonathan Sprague said.

The United Way will also have drop-in sessions when those seeking funding can ask questions about the application so the process itself isn’t a barrier for organizations that have little experience requesting grants, according to Matt Donahue, chief impact officer at the Heart of Maine United Way.

bangor’s arpa plans

Councilors previously established they’d like projects requesting money to address one of Bangor’s needs, especially those marginalized and underserved populations are facing, have a clear vision and outcome for success, and be sustainable and have a long-lasting effect on the community, among other criteria.

The council also set eight “areas of emphasis” it would like to see the relief money used for, including mental health, substance use disorder, job training, aid to non-profits, small business support, housing, homelessness and child care.

The United Way will gather and train a group of local volunteers to review funding applications the city receives. Those volunteers must abide by the United Way’s ethics and conflict of interest policies, meaning people cannot review and grade an application for an organization they’re involved with in any way, Donahue said.

The team will receive the applications on May 1 and review them throughout the month. The city council will then receive a report on June 20 that outlines the group’s scores for each request and recommendations.  

Councilors will also receive applications at the same time as the United Way volunteer group, so they don’t have to wait to receive the June report to see the requests, Donahue said. The city will consider the requests after the submission window has closed rather than making decisions as they come in.

Sprague said the council should also outline its plan to address the linked issues of  Bangor’s burgeoning homeless population and lack of affordable housing between now and June 20 so it can use it as criteria when making final funding decisions.

Donahue said the city’s timeline for accepting and considering applications is “fairly aggressive” compared to other communities’ grant allocation processes. It seems slow considering Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021, which rolled out one-time pots of funding to individual states, counties and communities.

“It’s on us as councilors that it feels like a long process because it took us so long to get here,” Councilor Clare Davitt said.

Bangor received the first portion of its $20.8 million in May 2021 and the second part arrived in January 2022. The money must be earmarked by 2024 and spent by 2027.

The city has already distributed $3.7 million of its $20.8 million pot to five local organizations, including the Bangor YMCA and Bangor Public Library, earlier this year. Those organizations submitted requests for funding to Penobscot County for review and approval, then Bangor was invited to join in with additional money from the city.

The city also earmarked another $4.1 million to ease the city’s housing shortage and homelessness crisis, but that money has not been allocated to any specific entities or initiatives.

Kathleen O'Brien is a reporter covering the Bangor area. Born and raised in Portland, she joined the Bangor Daily News in 2022 after working as a Bath-area reporter at The Times Record. She graduated from...