FILE - Valerie Huhn, acting director of Missouri Department of Mental Health

Valerie Huhn, acting director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new behavioral health center in St. Louis. Huhn developed the behavioral health toolkit for local governments in applying for federal COVID funds.

(The Center Square) – Missouri’s Office of Administration is providing guidance and strategies for hundreds of counties and local governments throughout the state during the application process for $2.6 billion in federal COVID-19 funds.

“When we work with that funding, we want to make sure we're really responsible with that money,” Gov. Mike Parson said in an interview with The Center Square. “We want to invest that money for the long term.”

Earlier this month, Missouri’s Office of Administration posted toolkits to assist local governments in identifying allowable uses for funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

 ARPA fund allocations for Missouri metropolitan areas
 
Blue Springs $6,190,665
Cape Girardeau$8,280,673
Columbia $25,284,624
Florissant $6,677,255
Independence $21,485,924
Jefferson City $7,586,581
Joplin $13,779,739
Kansas City $194,776,376
Lees Summit $8,310,882
O'Fallon $7,774,553
Springfield $40,276,290
St Joseph $38,704,807
St Louis $439,692,690
St. Charles$7,157,499
St. Peters$4,570,716
 Total$830,549,274

Missouri’s 114 counties are eligible for about $1.2 billion. The 15 largest metropolitan areas are eligible for $831 million. Hundreds of local governments in cities, towns and villages with a population under 50,000 are eligible for $450 million. A total of $350 billion in ARPA funding was allocated for state, local, territorial and tribal governments in response to COVID-19 and for economic development.

All ARPA state and local funds must be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026. Instead of the rapid spending of federal COVID funds that took place at the start of the pandemic – criticized by legislators in both parties – Parson hopes taking time for strategic thinking will bring better stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

“We want to make sure when (money) comes in that we don't have to rush to get it out the door,” Parson said. “The first time we did this, it was all about getting it out the door. That's never efficient way to do it.”

The toolkits provide strategies for allowable uses of the funds and are based on requirements set by the U.S. Treasury. The toolkits focus on six categories:

  • Public health
  • Public safety
  • Economic development
  • Water, wastewater and stormwater
  • Broadband
  • Behavioral health

“I think when we look at this funding, we want to make sure that we're going to use it long term for facilities across the state for multiple reasons,” Parson said Tuesday after a ribbon-cutting event for a new behavioral health facility in St. Louis. “We just want to take our time. There's no reason to try to make a lot of moves quickly and make mistakes when you've got places like this you can invest in. These are places that have a track record where we know it helps.”

Valerie Huhn, who was named acting director of the Department of Mental Health on Tuesday, assisted in creating the toolkit for behavioral health.

“Bricks and mortar (projects) are obviously a great investment because it's short-term funding,” said Huhn, who previously served as the deputy director of the Department of Mental Health. “We also need to fund staffing right now, anything we can do to help our workforce crisis.”

Huhn joined Parson at the ribbon cutting for the Dunnica Sobering Support Center in south St. Louis and highlighted community collaboration in addition to funding.

“We need to try to talk through projects,” Huhn said. “I think this project today is a really good example of when we all work together as a region on what we need to be successful. So it's putting ideas out there that we're going to be thinking through and really creating an opportunity to start dialogue.”

The state of Missouri received about $2.6 billion in ARPA funds, separate from allocations to local governments. Parson will provide specific plans for the state’s allocation during his annual budget proposal to the legislature and during his 2022 State of the State Address.

Staff Reporter

Joe Mueller covers Missouri for The Center Square. After seven years of reporting for daily newspapers in Illinois and Missouri, he spent the next 30 years in public relations serving non-profit organizations and as a strategic communications consultant.