Bangor city councilors will have to make some tough choices about how to spend the more than $20 million it received in federal COVID-19 relief funding, though decisions likely won’t come until June.
In total, 60 organizations submitted applications for Bangor’s pandemic relief funding, City Manager Debbie Laurie said Friday. Those requests total nearly $38 million, more than triple the roughly $12.4 million in unallocated funding the city has left to give after earmarking some funding earlier this year.
The window for local organizations to submit applications for a piece of the city’s one-time pot of funds closed Wednesday night after remaining open for about three weeks. That application period came after the city held onto the money for nearly two years, having received the first portion of its $20.8 million lump sum from the American Rescue Plan Act in May 2021.
Though the requests have been placed, it’s unclear how much of the city’s remaining relief funding may be distributed because “the City Council has not established any threshold as to how much may be awarded through this process,” Laurie said.
“The application process provided the ability to obtain feedback and suggestions without limits,” she said.
The applications will be reviewed, screened and scored by a volunteer team managed by the Heart of Maine United Way — previously called the United Way of Eastern Maine. The United Way’s assistance cost $9,850, which will come out of the city’s ARPA administrative allowance, Laurie 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.
Each application’s score will be based on a grading criteria of the council’s priorities. 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” where it would like to see the relief money used, including mental health, substance use disorder, job training, aid to nonprofits, small business support, housing, homelessness and child care.
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 awarded $1.7 million of its $20.8 million pot to several local organizations, including the Bangor Public Library and Penquis CAP, through partnerships with Penobscot County earlier this year. Those organizations submitted funding requests to Penobscot County for review and approval, then Bangor was invited to join in with additional money from the city.
Councilors also set aside — but haven’t yet finalized — another $6.8 million to positions and projects that will help ease the city’s housing shortage and homelessness crisis. Some $4.1 million of that allocation hasn’t yet been directed to any specific entities or initiatives.