$300 million in stimulus money earmarked for coal communities

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More federal stimulus money could be coming to Wyoming.

The Department of Commerce is allocating $300 million of its American Rescue Plan funds toward revitalizing coal communities, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced last week.

A total of $3 billion in stimulus funding will be distributed by the Economic Development Administration across six relief programs that target different sectors of the economy. Two of those programs — the $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge and the $500 million Economic Adjustment Assistance Challenge — will include funds designated specifically for coal communities.

“We believe that this $300 million investment in coal communities is the largest economic development that EDA has ever made in coal communities,” Raimondo said during a press conference on July 22. “And we know that it will enable these communities to recover, diversify their economies and grow.”

The announcement of the Coal Communities Commitment follows a report released in April by a multi-agency working group that evaluated the regional impacts of the coal industry’s decline and recommended that especially hard-hit communities be prioritized for federal investment.

Eastern and western Wyoming ranked eighth and ninth, respectively, on the report’s list of priority areas. Of the state’s 23 counties, 21 were identified by the report as having high concentrations of coal sector jobs.

“West of the Mississippi production, led by Wyoming, grew rapidly from the early 1970s, reaching a peak in 2008, and fell by roughly 33% since that time,” the report reads. “Coal mining communities across the United States are struggling — and many, particularly in Appalachia, have been struggling for decades.”

The program is open to applicants anywhere in the country who can demonstrate economic hardship as a result of changes in the coal sector, including Economic Development Districts, Native tribes, local governments, institutions of higher education and nonprofits. Individuals and for-profit groups are not eligible for program support.

“In order to qualify to get the money, you have to prove to us that you’ll have an equity lens,” Raimondo said. “I have to make sure that women, people of color, veterans, people who’ve been left out will be included in this. So it’s a lens that we’re going to take across the $3 billion.”

Applications are now open and will be reviewed on a rolling basis. The suggested submission deadline is March 15, 2022.

“10 years from now, we will have communities that are a beehive of economic activity that, five years ago, were distressed,” Raimondo said.

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