Small Towns Compete for Infrastructure Funding?

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I subscribe to a city-specific news site called Smart Cities Dive. They regularly sent out emails with links to articles on subjects that concern cities. Most of the articles have subjects that relate mostly to larger cities. But once in a while, there are a few that catch my eye.

The article that caught my eye recently was one titled, “Small cities seek to compete for historic infrastructure funds“. The article is about the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that was passed last November to fund pipelines, bridges, broadband, and other projects. It is a well-written article, worth a read if you have the time.

However, the article frustrated me from the very start. Not the writing, but the reality of the situation. Here’s why.

What’s Your Definition of Rural?

The second paragraph mentions the previous infrastructure bill passed by the Obama Administration during the Great Recession. The bill provided funding for RAISE grants that funded projects in 90 rural and urban centers nationwide in 2021.

But check out the link to the spreadsheet of projects. The far left column differentiates the projects as Urban or Rural. Here are some of the cities where the “Rural” projects were awarded.

  • Tuscaloosa, Alabama (pop. 99,390)
  • Yuma, Arizona (pop. 96,349)
  • Springfield, Illinois (pop. 115,888)
  • Joliet, Illinois (pop. 147,826)

Those are rural communities?!

Yuma alone has more population than 98-99% of the cities in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas. Three of Iowa’s 1,008 cities have a population of over 96,000.

Biden Administration Provides “Help”

The article continues with a quote from a senior research associate at the Urban Institute:

Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, sees a strong need in communities across the country to receive assistance in applying for these grants, noting that federal grants have complicated proposals that can cost a lot of money to develop.

“Not every city is New York or Chicago, with the resources and staff to come together with that kind of big proposal,” said Freemark. “So more needs to be done to fill the gap and make sure every community can take advantage of the grant money.”

The Biden administration is hoping to address this inequity with a newly-released 465-page guidebook that instructs cities on how to apply for these funds.

THIS, is unfortunately where I have to restrain my heavily sarcastic mind. So a city clerk, in an office of one, of a town of let’s say 3,000 residents is supposed to read that? It’s not just the 465 pages though. That same city clerk then has to write a grant application that competes against communities like Joliet, Illinois. The same Joliet, Illinois that has 807 employees and a budget large enough to hire a consultant to write the grant application.

Work to Be Done to get Infrastructure Funding to Rural Areas

There’s still work to be done at the federal level for the lawmakers to understand that rural America needs help. But I doubt any of them have spent time as a city clerk in a town of 3,000 before their ascension to Washington.