We have been shown time and time again that what is truly great about Indiana, are her people. Across all 92 counties, Hoosier men and women know that in challenging times, words like community and phrases like IN This Together take on a deeper meaning. Not only do we work together to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic by social distancing and adhering to safety precautions; but we fight for our communities by supporting local businesses and organizations that add to our quality of life.

When COVID-19 began to spread to all 92 counties, we knew that the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA) could help provide leadership, strategically distribute funding and convene leaders from across the state to address the needs of our small and rural communities. These areas of our state were vulnerable due to challenges with infrastructure and capacity, and OCRA is equipped and experienced to help.

In April, OCRA announced more than $10.7 million in funding for 62 rural communities to help provide for the immediate needs brought upon by COVID-19. The COVID-19 Response Program funding is assisting communities with purchasing necessary testing and medical supplies, delivering food and supplies to local residents, as well as providing businesses and their workers with much-needed relief.

However, this is the first of many phases in this recovery journey. As the crisis evolves, rural communities will face new and ever-changing challenges, and we should be planning and preparing now to assure our businesses survive the current recession. This mindset helped form our strategic approach to our programming, realizing additional funding and creative initiatives would be needed following the initial response.

Now, with communities gradually opening, the COVID-19 Response Program has transitioned into a second phase. This phase will provide necessary grants to help address the economic recovery opportunities that are taking a large financial hit in rural communities.  With Community Block Development Grant funds, non-entitlement local units of government are eligible to apply for up to $250,000. Once awarded, the communities themselves will then decide how best to distribute the funding to their small businesses and micro-enterprises.

Indiana businesses and workplaces are quickly adapting to new safety requirements, while also determining how best to adjust their business model. Being able to quickly adapt has become a component of the Hoosier spirit, which inspires us to work harder to identify opportunities to assist with the recovery. As businesses adjust, they continue to need everyone’s support. Our small businesses are the backbone of our rural economy and we must all work together to ensure their survival.

We encourage all our rural leaders to learn more about this program, as well as plan local efforts to best support all businesses.  And of course, we will continue to work alongside you, share best practices and provide technical assistance.

Our pioneering spirit is alive and well because, as Hoosiers, we overcome any adversity that comes our way. This funding will help bridge the phases between short- and long-term actions, and we will continue to recover, repair and reconnect. We will define our new normal with new guidelines, but also with the same determination that is woven into the Hoosier spirit.  Through all the uncertainty, one thing remains very clear in our conversations with Hoosiers – we are strong, we are resilient and we are in this together!

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