States have the power to make or break the infrastructure law

They’ll have significant discretion over how much of the funding will be spent.

Now that President Joe Biden has signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (also known as the bipartisan infrastructure framework, or BIF) into law, the federal government faces a new challenge: getting the funds out to states and cities.

In the coming months — and years — federal agencies will distribute billions of dollars for everything from bridge repairs to public transit expansions to bike paths. Most of this money will go directly to state governments, which will have significant discretion over which projects they’d like to fund.

The state officials who oversee most civilian infrastructure projects will soon face tough decisions about which communities will get this money. Because the bill doesn’t include enough funding to cover the entirety of the country’s infrastructure needs, states and other regional entities will have to decide which roads get repaired, which lead pipes get replaced, and which bridges get restored, a process that has in the past left certain low-income communities and communities of color with poor access to adequate infrastructure.

Communities will begin receiving infrastructure funding in the course of the next year. Many programs that are being funded, like the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund or the Highway Safety Improvement Program, already exist, so officials can use established channels to distribute the money. Other initiatives, however, like a program to establish a national network of electric vehicle chargers, are newer and could take a year, or more, to set up.

While much of the bill’s funding will be distributed to states, the legislation also includes a substantial amount of money (at least $120 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal) that’s under the jurisdiction of the federal government, which doesn’t typically have much authority over infrastructure projects. Part of this funding will be doled out through competitive grants, giving officials at federal agencies more of a voice in the decisions.

So far, the Department of Transportation has estimated that states could receive funding in as soon as six months. This timing, though, will vary significantly depending on the program.

Beyond the timing and logistics of distributing the money, federal and state officials are also expected to face a major challenge in making sure this new funding addresses racial inequities. Past infrastructure measures have failed to tackle this issue, and have, at times exacerbated existing problems. Because the states will control most of the funding, they’ll be the ones largely determining how to acknowledge these disparities, if at all.

“Not only will states have discretion over revolving funds and highway dollars, but there’s a big question of what they choose to fund,” says Adie Tomer, a senior metropolitan policy fellow at the Brookings Institution.

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