Washtenaw County has announced a new, strategic funding program that will use federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to strengthen local organizations that have not previously been able to contract with the county.
The program, called the Community Priority Fund
, will assist communities that have been under-resourced and underserved, particularly the 48197 and 48198 ZIP codes, which have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new $8 million investment is part of the county’s most recent spending package under ARPA. It has two main goals: increasing equitable, community-informed allocations of ARPA funding; and increasing the capacities of smaller, newer, and grassroots organizations that have been providing services to the most socially vulnerable residents during the pandemic.
"We want to help lesser legacy organizations, and support ecosystem development so that organizations that have not previously received funding, or who have not previously contracted for services with the county, will be able to do so in the future," says county Public Information Officer Crystal Campbell. "Both goals are equity-driven, but the second one will really make some systemic impact that will have long-standing positive consequences for the county."
Campbell says county commissioners have been aware of the need to invest directly in the community since the county established its Racial Equity Office in 2018.
"We have the data, we have the Opportunity Index,
and we have lots of firsthand information from people and advocates who we have talked to about their experiences and what they need," Campbell says. "The challenges always involve the funding source and how do we operationalize. This money has provided a funding source and the opportunity we need."
She adds that "any organization that even remotely thinks they are eligible should apply," and that priority will be given to organizations who have not previously been contracted with the county.
for funding are available online through April 7. Projects must fall within one of five ARPA-eligible categories: Community Violence Interventions, Addressing Education Disparities, Expanding Early Childhood Education, Providing Direct Assistance to Households, and Addressing Housing and Homelessness.
Those who are interested are also encouraged to attend a technical assistance session to learn more about the funding and the application process, and to raise any questions or concerns. For those who are unable to attend a session, all the questions and answers that have been submitted are made public on the fund's website. Session dates and other information are available here
Campbell says the county is not holding any set expectations of what specific projects should look like or what the outcomes should be, other than being able to demonstrate the ability to make positive impacts in the county.
"Projects have to be good for the county and good for our residents," Campbell says. "We've got a wide breadth of opportunity with the Community Priority Fund and I think people are going to come up with some really creative ways to make an impact."
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.