A recent study found that over half of communities in the West lack the capacity to access the $1.2 trillion in federal funds earmarked for infrastructure-related projects and climate resilience funding under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

High Country News reports that Montana-based nonprofit think tank Headwaters Economics examined 10 factors that influence rural communities’ ability to apply for grants and used them to calculate a county’s “rural capacity” score. Researchers considered factors such as urban-rural classification, educational levels, poverty levels, broadband access, voter turnout, insurance enrollment and the existence of a local head of planning.

Regions with insufficient capacity have several shared issues, including economic dependency on natural resources, agriculture and other commodities with volatile revenue streams and a lack of grant writers, land-use planners and emergency planners whose professional expertise is key to accessing federal funds. Montana stands out as the state with the lowest rural capacity, with more than three-quarters of its communities falling below the national median. Nearly half of the communities in Idaho, New Mexico and Wyoming also rank below the national median.

In addition, rural communities with low capacity also count among those most vulnerable to impacts of rampant climate change, such as wildfires and floods. Furthermore, these communities are severely hampered by historical injustices and structural inequalities in American society. For example, many communities with low rural capacity are on or near Native American reservations. These communities are also the least likely to apply for grants, despite all the benefits they could gain from climate mitigation funding provided by the federal government.

Officials from the Biden administration have reached out to rural communities ahead of midterm elections to improve their capacity, like through the recently launched Rural Partners Network. Nevertheless, state and federal officials must work directly and regularly with rural communities to prevent wealthier municipalities with greater capacity from taking the lion’s share of infrastructure funding.

The paper offers several policy recommendations to prevent rural communities from being left out of the influx of federal funds, such as eliminating matching requirements and allowing granting agencies to pinpoint areas with exceptionally high needs.

To read the full story, go here: https://www.hcn.org/articles/economy-why-rural-communities-struggle-to-bring-in-much-needed-federal-grants