BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Los Alamos Reporter reached out to Los Alamos County Economic Development Director Dan Ungerleider Monday about the status of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that were made available to the County on July 20, 2021 after being contacted by local business owners concerned about the length of time it is taking for the County to begin disbursing funds, almost a year later.
The amount available for economic development is $2 million out of the $3.762 million final ARPA allocation to the County as voted on by Los Alamos County Council voted earlier his year. Some $600,000 was approved for social services and the remaining $1.1 million was allocated to water infrastructure.
In his last update to local small business owners May 27, Ungerleider noted that he had promised to have a process in place for them to apply for and receive the latest round of funding from ARPA by then.
“Unfortunately, there have been some setbacks, and the County is not able to deliver it according o the original schedule by late May,” he said.
In the mass email, Ungerleider said getting the ARPA funds to local businesses is my number one priority.
“We are working on setting it up to make the process quick, easy, and as painless as possible for you. I will keep you posted on my progress and any new assistance or opportunities that become available,” Ungerleider said.
However, business owners told the Reporter this week that they had received no update for six weeks.
“We are reluctant to make waves,” one owner said. “So many of our businesses suffered from the pandemic and we are still struggling to catch up. We expected to at least be able to submit our applications for ARPA funding by now. We don’t understand why the ARPA funds couldn’t be handled like the CARES Act fund with a simple application.”
She said she has been holding off on making purchases that she had hoped to be reimbursed for through ARPA because “it is unclear if it will happen”.
Another business owner complained that the County website offers little information except for the same May 27 announcement. He said other cities and counties have set up their business assistance programs and have been disbursing funds.
In response to written questions from the Reporter, Ungerleider said the County is working with an accounting firm to develop and offer a grant application and service website.
“Business owners will be able to apply for County Business Assistance/ARPA funds and upload required documents on this site. The County is in the process of procuring these services. More information of when the application web portal will be posted on the County’s business assistance program webpage [link],” he said.
Asked why the portal is needed, Ungerleider said the portal and “related management program provides a one-stop shop for businesses to visit, apply for and manage their request for business assistance program funding.
“Its use will ensure consistent award, release and reporting for the County and the business community,” he said.
Ungerleider said grants will be distributed by reimbursement only and that businesses have been advised to keep copies of their receipts for eligible expenses dating as far back as March 3, 2021. He said he has met with more than 25 businesses who have expressed interest in applying for the ARPA funds.
“These funds will be offered and distributed as long as they are available over the next 2 ½ years,” he said.
Under the County Manager’s report on agenda for Tuesday’s County Council meeting, Manager Steve Lynne said ARPA has “gone slower than we hoped”.
“We ran into some issues on contractual negotiations on our portal that we were hoping to establish. The latest update is that we have resolved those issues,” he said, adding that it was an “unfortunate roadblock but I think we’ve got past that now”.
“I think in the next few weeks we should have an updated schedule to let folks know when that portal will be in place and when we’ll start accepting applications. So it’s looking more hopeful certainly than it did a month ago,” Lynne said.
Councilors remained mostly silent on the issue. Councilor David Izraelevitz asked if there are further delays on the portal it would be possible to start taking paper applications and get the process going.
“I’d say if within the next few weeks there’s not something definitive in place, we definitely have to consider that as an alternative,” Lynne responded.
“It’s been a while so maybe a shorter string than you’re thinking,” Council Chair Randall Ryti responded.
The name of the consultant was not mentioned and it was not clear whether or not the County has yet signed a contract.