Millions in pandemic aid still unclaimed by Minnesota cities, townships

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There really is no such thing as "free money," but $377 million the federal government sent to Minnesota to help small cities and townships comes pretty close. So far, more than $18 million of it remains unclaimed.

"It’s really there to help Minnesotans respond and recover from the effect of COVID," Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said about the American Rescue Plan dollars his agency is doling out. "And there are a lot of different uses, a lot of different ways that local units of government can use it to make sure that their cities and towns and their citizens get the help that they need."

So far only about 60% of Minnesota’s 2,600 eligible local units of government have applied for money. That leaves about 113 cities and 568 townships that haven’t applied for the remaining $18,014,183 the federal government sent to Minnesota.

"We’re very excited about having this funding because this is unusual for us," says Jeff Krueger, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Townships. "We usually do not get any kind of federal funding."

Krueger also serves on the board of the New Market Township in Scott County, where they were eligible for $398,000. The board members tentatively plan to use it for improvements to the town hall building, two new laptop computers and road improvements.

"So for us to be able to put this into our infrastructure, into our local communities, it’s a win, it’s a definite win," says Krueger.

Schowalter says local governments are finding a variety of things to spend the money that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible with diminished tax resources during the pandemic.

"There’s a lot of good infrastructure projects," he told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. "Some people are putting in broadband, community service buildings and facilities, infrastructure are some of the most common uses."

Krueger says some of the remaining townships that haven’t applied are the smallest and hardest to reach with news that the program is available. Others, he says, have delayed because they can’t decide how to spend it. Krueger says those details can be worked out later.

"I told township officers that if I was a resident of your township, yeah, I probably wouldn’t be too happy if you didn’t apply for the dollars, so that’s why I’m encouraging everyone to do so," he says.

The original deadline to apply was Oct. 4, but it has now been extended to Oct. 11. The Department of Management and Budget’s COVID-19 Accountability Office has a list of which cities and townships have applied and received funds and which have not.