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Oklahoma making strides in getting American Rescue Plan funds to small communities

A car show on the Pauls Valley main street.
City of Pauls Valley
A car show on the Pauls Valley main street.

Over the past month, Oklahoma has more than doubled the amount of American Rescue Plan funding it has distributed to small cities.

The state is responsible for distributing $119 million from the coronavirus relief package to 579 cities with 50,000 or fewer residents. In October, 65 eligible communities had received a total of $37 million. That’s now up to 225 communities and $97 million.

But out of the eligible cities, only 542 have received their login for an online funding portal, leaving 37 without access still. Oklahoma Municipal League Executive Director Mike Fina told state lawmakers they have contact information for someone at most cities in a database.

“The problem is it might be the public works director, but it doesn’t really fit into the definition of who the authorized person should be. So, we’re trying to reach those people as well, but we’re working very hard to finish those last 37,” Fina said.

State Grants Management Office Director Clay Holk said contacting the right person is vital to getting funds to those communities.

“We also have to have financial information, given that I’d say for all but a few, we’re not sending paper checks. We are actually making electronic funds transfers,” Holk said.

Fina said based on seminars OML has hosted, the overwhelming amount of ARPA funds small cities receive will go toward infrastructure. Some lawmakers wondered whether that was prudent with a separate, $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill signed into law two weeks ago.

“When you get into the last half of the municipalities, we’re talking about thousands of dollars, not even hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I’m looking at a former mayor right here who can tell you how expensive it is to put a water line in. So, we’re going to need all of that if we’re going to really make an impact on all the problems we have with our water and wastewater infrastructure,” Fina said.

ARPA funds distributed to small towns must be spent by the end of 2024.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.