OCRA launches new program to help local governments prioritize spending COVID-19 relief money

Indiana Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch and the Office of Community and Rural Affairs are helping local governments get the most out of their COVID-19 relief grants.

The new program is called the Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program, or HELP for short, and is designed for local units of governments to optimize their Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds.

“In my position as Secretary of Rural Development, I have seen many Indiana rural communities grow and develop with the help of OCRA’s programs,” Crouch says, “HELP is the newest way for the state to partner with our already vibrant and successful rural communities, and further build them so they become stronger and more resilient.”

“When I was mayor of my hometown of Huntingburg, I got to experience how OCRA and its partners can help transform a community,” OCRA Executive Director Denny Spinner say. “I am excited to now bring the spirit of Stellar into a new iteration that will support communities in best employing Fiscal Recovery Funds to create a legacy in these Hoosier towns and cities.”

Spinner said HELP melds the pillars of OCRA’s Stellar initiative into a program that will capitalize on the successes of previous efforts, while addressing the current environment of Hoosier communities. This new program supports communities directly by building capacity, creating a peer network system between communities participating in the program, developing a strategic investment plan and providing access to set-aside funding.

HELP will also include thorough training on ARPA, the introduction of a community coordinator position, and the creation of an online dashboard that includes high-quality data about the selected city or town.

To help carry out the year-long program, OCRA is partnering with the Purdue Center for Regional Development, the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement, the Ball State University Indiana Communities Institute and Ivy Tech Community College.

Communities selected to participate in HELP will collaborate with these higher education institutions on four key pathways, advancing e-connectivity, enhancing quality of place, promoting community wellness and strengthening local economies. These pathways will help communities to be more resilient to future economic downturns. Columbus-based nonprofit CivicLab along with the higher education institutions, will provide data training to support the implementation of a Strategic Investment Plan based on community feedback, community data and these four pathways.

Additional organizations assisting with OCRA’s new program include the Indiana Arts Commission, the Indiana State Office of Rural Health/Indiana State Department of Health, the Indiana Department of Transportation, and the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

HELP will have three cohorts, with each cohort supporting up to four communities. As a result, HELP will have the capability to implement an increased number of broad projects over a wider area and in a shorter time-frame than previous programs like it.

The application for the first cohort opens on Sept. 6. Communities must apply before the Oct. 1 deadline. Communities are allowed to apply for multiple cohorts and a community’s status as a READI region will not impact HELP selections.

A live, informational webinar outlining HELP details will be held at 3 p.m. ET on Aug. 18. For more information on the webinar and HELP, visit in.gov/ocra/HELP/.

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