This list is growing for the use of the county’s US bailout money

There is a March 15 deadline for applications from those who want a portion of funds from Branch County’s $8.4 million U.S. bailout. After that date, county commissioners will consider how to use COVID-19 relief money.

After the federal government eased restrictions, the list of those applying for federal money grew from $10.65 million to $12.4 million.

Branch County Administrator Bud Norman offered to use the money for a countywide high-speed internet project. The county will apply for USDA grants for the $65 million project to spark broadband interest in all 16 townships.

The idea has gained support in rural areas that struggle to get and maintain adequate connections.

Norman suggested $6.2 million would match the home game for a $25 million grant. The money would give the county capital a positive cash flow for the first 33 months of operation. The county would then sell revenue bonds to reimburse other costs from user revenues. He originally wanted to use $8 million.

Also, there is serious consideration of using $250,000 to top up employee health insurance costs for a year until he can implement less expensive programs. Due to high utilization and low deductibles, rates for 2022 have increased by 67% or more for the employee share. A county committee offered to use ARP funds.

Also on the wish list is $1 million for county building upgrades. Another is $1 million for automating county departments, which could reduce the need to fill vacancies in various departments.

A group of residents approached a non-profit organization to run a year-round farmer’s market at the former Felpausch store on Marshall Street. He increased his claim from $800,000 to $1 million.

Another group approached Norman for a reverse fellowship program. For residents going off to college or training, the grants will reimburse a portion of tuition if they return to the county to live and work for several years. The proposed funding is $50,000.

The Branch County Fair Association requested $750,000, then increased the request to $1 million. It would cover losses caused by the cancellation and declining county fair attendance in 2020 and 2021.

Another group offered to use $100,000 to improve and expand child care services in Branch County. During the COVID-19 lockdown, many were unable to keep their jobs or return to work due to a lack of childcare. As part of workforce development, a regional program now sees improved childcare as key to filling jobs.

With $4.2 million in the bank and another $4.2 million soon on the way, commissioners must decide how best to allocate ARP funds for the county.

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