The innovative ways cities and states are spending federal pandemic money

Everyone’s talking about the recently passed $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the yet-to-be-passed Build Back Better Act. Which makes sense—both bills have good things in them.

But what about the already passed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which includes $350 billion in Covid-19 aid to state and local governments? What’s going on with that money?

There’s good news and bad news.

The bad news is that some states are making “shortsighted and costly” mistakes. That’s what Alabama Arise called their state’s decision to use $400 million—about 20 percent of their total Covid-19 relief funds—to help finance a $1.3 billion prison construction plan.

America already has the world’s highest incarceration rate—we need less prisons, not more.

The good news is that the relief is working. According the Treasury Department, “Simply knowing these funds were in their coffers has allowed state and local governments to avoid budget cuts and layoffs.”

For example, Hawaii had planned to furlough 10,000 employees and cut its budget by $600 million—echoing what many states did in response to the 2008 recession, which slowed economic recovery. But less than a week after ARPA was passed, Hawaii nixed the cuts.

The even better news is that many cities and states are spending the money in ways that will help their residents in the long-term.

Allentown, Pennsylvania, is planning to invest nearly $7 million toward providing public high-speed broadband internet across town, particularly aimed at its poorest communities. Nearly one in four Allentown residents lacks internet access at home.

Kentucky is spending $250 million on upgrading water and sewer infrastructure.

Wichita, Kansas, plans to use the funds to hire for positions that have been vacant since the start of the pandemic, including street maintenance equipment operators and park maintenance workers.

The Pasqua Yaqui Tribe created a $100 vaccine incentive to combat the high rates of Covid-19 in Arizona tribal communities.

Gilbert, Arizona, plans to fund an advocacy center where residents experiencing violence can work with social workers and other public employees to reduce trauma.

Orange County, Florida, is planning to fund childcare in high-poverty areas to help more working parents get back to work.

Leon County, Florida is expanding Covid-19 vaccine access for high-risk and underserved populations and promoting vaccines through partnerships with churches and other community partners.

There are so many more examples—check them out here. And if your city/state is doing something great, email us.

This funding needs to be spent not on failed policies (like more prisons) but on public things. Things that contribute to the common good. Things that help all of us, no matter where we come from, what our color, or how much money is in our wallets.

Photo by Joe Flood.