Small Communities Could Lose Out on Infrastructure Funding

Awarding federal funding via competitive grants could block grant opportunities for communities that need them the most.

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January 13, 2022, 7:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Stormwater Infrastructure

Presidio of Monterey / Flickr

As the Biden administration prepares to distribute billions in infrastructure funding to cities and states via competitive grants, some experts caution that many smaller and rural communities, lacking the institutional capacity to prepare slick grant applications and proposals, will be left out.

As Jake Blumgart writes, "Metro areas like Boston have a deep bench of experienced planners, a rich network of foundations and community development corporations, and organized business groups that push for transit and housing reform. But what about rural areas, deindustrialized Midwestern regions, or traditionally low tax and low service corners of the country like much of the American South?" 

Most grants also require a 20 percent match, which may pose a challenge for poorer communities. "If federal agencies judge applicants by their capacity to draft and execute complex and resource-intensive projects, areas with smaller populations and smaller tax bases may suffer," says Blumgart. Federal funding available via competitive grants includes money for transit, brownfield remediation and climate resilience, electric vehicle infrastructure, and highway removal.

With smaller communities at a structural disadvantage, experts like Bruce Katz of Drexel University suggest the federal government could bolster capacity-building grants and improve access to grant-writing support for jurisdictions that would otherwise have a hard time catching the attention of federal officials.

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