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Baltimore to allow nonprofits to apply for federal stimulus money starting Oct. 1, will announce first projects soon

Baltimore will allow nonprofit organizations to begin applying Oct. 1 for funding from the city’s $640 million American Rescue Plan allocation, Mayor Brandon Scott announced Monday.

City officials have been debating how to spend the money, promised by the federal government as part of a coronavirus pandemic relief program passed by Congress in March. Earlier this year, Scott hired several new staff members to begin assessing and scoring internal applications for the funding made by city agencies, and officials are nearing announcements about the first round of awards, Scott said during a virtual address.

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Early projects receiving some of the money will include investments in the continued fight against COVID-19, community-based violence reduction initiatives and an economic recovery fund for small and local businesses, particularly minority- and women-owned businesses as well as artists and creators.

Scott also pledged to invest in broadband infrastructure as the pandemic continues to force people to work from home and some children to attend virtual classes. More details on the recipients of the funds will be announced later this month and in October, Scott said.

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Groups outside city government looking to apply for funding can attend a Sept. 28 virtual seminar to be held by the city, Scott said. Application materials already are available on the city’s website.

Scott’s announcement comes as City Council President Nick Mosby is making a push for more transparency in the spending of American Rescue Plan funding. Mosby introduced a bill Monday evening requiring the City Council to conduct quarterly oversight hearings on the disbursement of the money.

The City Council has little control over the spending. While the sum was included in the budget passed by the group in June, individual allocations are controlled by Scott’s administration.

Scott said Monday that he plans to comply with the City Council’s request for quarterly updates to the group. The first such hearing is set for Oct. 5, he said.

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Until now, Baltimore officials have been largely mum about how they plan to spend the American Rescue Plan funding, although Scott and others have pledged to use the money in more “transformative” ways than previous pandemic-related funding.

Officials announced earlier this year that applications will be scored using a rubric that weighs the public good a project will generate, any risks involved and available resources to achieve the project’s goal. The scoring system is weighted most heavily for a project’s impact on equity.

Projects must cost a minimum of $250,000. Those considered eligible can be approved immediately, but some may be held back until city officials can analyze the possibility of using other streams of federal recovery funding.

Funding from the American Rescue Plan has fewer restrictions than previous recovery programs offered by the government, but federal officials have outlined some rules. Eligible uses include public health, supplementing revenue loss, and specific infrastructure projects dealing with the supply of water, sewer and broadband.

The money cannot be used for legal settlements or judgments, infrastructure unrelated to the pandemic, “extraordinary deposits” into a pension fund, or to bolster financial reserves.

City finance officials have set aside $130.6 million for budget stabilization. About $50 million of that will be used to balance the fiscal year 2021 budget, as is required by law, and the remainder would be saved in case it’s needed to balance future budgets.

An additional $10 million will be spent to operate the Office of Recovery Programs, the city arm analyzing applications and doling out the assistance, through 2025.

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