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Gov. Brian Kemp is earmarking $250 million in federal COVID-19 relief for neighborhood recreation improvements in some of Georgia’s poorest areas.
Grants of up to $2 million per project can be used by local governments or nonprofit groups to improve, repair or maintain parks, recreation facilities, sidewalks and healthy food access, Kemp announced Tuesday.
The money can be spent in census tracts with poverty rates generally worse than 20% in 2019. Statewide, Georgia has a poverty rate of 14%, according to the Census Bureau.
Because of that limitation, the money is likely to flow mostly to areas dominated by Democratic voters, even as Democrats howl that the Republican Kemp is trying to spend federal money he opposed to shore up his reelection. For example, only about 10 census tracts in heavily Republican north Georgia are eligible outside neighborhoods in Rome, Gainesville and Dalton that are dominated by Black and Hispanic voters.
The state says encouraging physical activity and healthy eating improves health because parks and recreation facilities allow for socially distanced recreation despite COVID-19.
The state says it will prefer overhauls of existing facilities because the money must be spent by Oct. 31, 2026. The state Office of Planning and Budget will begin accepting applications Thursday, with plans to decide which grants will be awarded in January.
Kemp on Monday announced $62 million in awards of up to $5 million apiece to use federal COVID-19 aid to 20 nonprofit groups that will use the money to combat homelessness. In recent weeks, Kemp has also announced $125 million for school-based health centers, $37 million to help students catch up on learning they missed during the pandemic, and a whopping $1.2 billion on payments of $350 apiece to poorer Georgians.
State law gives Kemp control over how federal COVID-19 aid is spent.