Amid the ongoing water crisis in Jackson leaving some people still without clean running water, Hinds County has opted out of trying to receive federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars.
Is this a principled refusal to tackle the DC dollar? Or just incompetence?
The federal government created ARPA in 2021 as a way to help local governments recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its uses include improvements to water, sewer and infrastructure, along with compensating the public sector for lost money.
Mississippi received $1.8 billion in ARPA. Of that amount, the state legislature allocated $750,000 million to help support local governments to match some of the funds local entities have already received from the federal government – $450,000 specifically will be designated for water. To ensure this money was properly spent, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality created the Mississippi Municipality & County Water Infrastructure Grant Program for local governments to apply for matching funds with a September 30 deadline.
Hinds County, the county with a failed water system, missed its deadline – intentionally, some suggest.
Hinds County received $45 million in federal ARPA dollars and could have been awarded up to $17 million if the Hinds County Supervisors attempted to apply for these funds. The county’s reasoning for missing the deadline? The hope that sitting out this round could result in more money in the state’s second allocation round in the spring.
But nothing is ever guaranteed, especially when it comes to public money.
The determination of how much matching funds a local entity receives is based upon a point system administered by MDEQ. Hinds County Administrator Kenneth Wayne Jones said the points Hinds County received were not enough to justify even applying for ARPA dollars from the state, and he believes going through the application again and looking for items the county might have initially missed will produce a greater outcome.
In its application, MDEQ states that the process among cities and counties will be very competitive, and some entities may have to apply multiple times before they receive any matching dollars. So even though Hinds County believes it could be allocated more money in the next round, the county is not guaranteed to actually receive these funds.
From soon-to-be college students applying for college tuition assistance to charities looking to fund their mission, any time individuals or organizations request federal dollars, there is always a vigorous and competitive process to receive such aid. The amount of money Hinds County could receive when – or if – it actually applies in the spring may be even less than what the county thought it would secure this go-round, or worse, even none at all.
Based on preliminary data from WLBT Jackson, 429 cities and counties across the state applied for matching dollars, amounting to $435 million in requests. If all desired wants are met, hypothetically, only $15 million remains in the state’s ARPA water improvement fund.
The city of Jackson requested $35 million for work to improve the O. B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, the facility that oversees Jackson’s water system. Jackson also plans to spend $27 to $35 million of its ARPA received on water upgrades. While the city of Jackson could potentially end up with nearly $70 million to spend on the water crisis, Hinds County will only be contributing a mere $17.5 million to the project, due to not even an attempt to obtain matching funds.
Administrator Jones said he is sure the county’s “strategy” will work in its favor though, eventually resulting in more money later than what could have been offered now. For the betterment of Jackson and Hinds County residents and the need for actually clean water one day, we sure hope so.