Five state leaders chosen by Gov. Mark Gordon for what he has named his “Strike Team” met in a virtual town hall Friday to discuss plans for spending upwards of $1 billion in federal funding coming to Wyoming.
“The core of what we are talking about is a strategy … to help Wyoming drive toward a future where its citizens will thrive,” Renny MacKay, the governor’s policy director, said. “This was catalyzed by the federal congressional act, the American Rescue Plan, and Wyoming receiving dollars through that.”
In September, Gordon’s office announced the creation of the Strike Team, tasking its five members with addressing challenges in workforce development, education, child care, food insecurity, health care, wildlife conservation and in making government more efficient by using ARPA funding coming to Wyoming. The Strike Team is already evaluating more than $3 billion in proposals, though many will not qualify for the $1 billion in available ARPA funds. They could, however, qualify for other one-time funds or be funded through the new federal infrastructure bill.
“The governor’s goal is to take this money that the federal government is allocating to states to try to make sure that we can have the best future possible, because essentially, the money that is funding this is being borrowed from our kids and our grandkids and our great-grandkids,” MacKay said.
The Wyoming Business Council is leading Goal 2 to “strengthen Wyoming’s economy and revenue streams,” engaging in public and one-on-one meetings to identify specific challenges, and develop projects and proposals that show evidence-based links to increasing jobs, wages, economic output or state revenue. Josh Dorrell, CEO of the Wyoming Business Council, said his agency is largely focused on adding value to Wyoming’s existing core industries and leveraging them to create opportunities for growth.
“We can all realize that natural resources, tourism and agriculture are critical components to our state, but we also want to leverage those to activate new sectors,” Dorrell said. “As we began to look at programs and talk to stakeholders, and continued to listen to partners across agencies and state organizations, we really looked at how we do that best with an eye toward the future.”
MacKay said the process will be ongoing, and much of the ARPA funding does not have to be spent for several years. Robin Cooley, director of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, said the interaction of ideas between agencies is encouraging.
“We are having this integration of ideas across proposals that will really help us to build a system across Wyoming to address some of these issues that really are systemic,” Cooley said.
There are more than 100 proposals available on the Strike Team’s website, drivethrive.wyo.gov, and MacKay said the team is thinking about how to use additional federal money that may come to Wyoming, as well.
“One of the things that (we have seen) is that we shouldn’t just focus on the American Rescue Plan,” he said. “Since the ARP, the infrastructure plan passed Congress. There are some great opportunities, and there are some challenges in that act, but we definitely have been looking to the future as much as possible.”
Some of the 10 goals can be assigned to a specific state agency, highlighting the need to use funding to address specific challenges, but many overlap. Stakeholder input from municipalities, tribes and the public is being gathered, and MacKay asked that public comment be submitted through the Strike Team website by Jan. 14.
Corin Schmidt, director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services, said COVID-19 showed many in Wyoming the fragility of human services and health care systems, and her agency will try to use funding to address those needs.
“We haven’t had to use (those services) in quite the way we have had to use them in past years. What COVID highlighted was really the lack of infrastructure at many of our community-based health and human service providers,” she said.
DFS goals will combine ideas that address those challenges created with stakeholder input, she said.
Wyoming Department of Health priorities include things like health care access, behavioral health supports, facility-based care, and services for seniors, children and families, WDH Interim Director Stefan Johansson explained. Also on the Department of Health’s list of ideas is creating a health and human services capital construction fund, and expanding telehealth and tele-mental health services in Wyoming.
“To get a little bit more concrete … one is a lot of provider relief and staffing stabilization that is really directly related to the effects of the pandemic,” Johansson said.