Saturday, February 24, 2024

Thinking Big with ARPA Funds

Enacted March 11, 2021, The American Rescue Act Plan (ARPA), advanced by President Biden’s administration “to provide direct relief to Americans, contain COVID-19 and rescue the economy,” focuses on COVID vaccination, education and research, along with providing direct payments to American families. The ARPA also allocated “$350 billion to state, local, and Tribal governments” to assist in pandemic response and recovery. 

The allocated funds are significant, but there are limits on how agencies can spend their State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF).

Federal Guidelines

SLFRF, provided to qualified applications for use in four key categories, expanded the focus in early 2022 to allow broader usage. Recipients can:

  1. Replace lost public sector revenue to provide government services; 
  2. Respond to negative economic impacts of the pandemic by supporting the health of communities (from households to businesses, industries to public sector entities, and nonprofit organizations);
  3. Provide premium pay for essential workers; and
  4. Invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure to expand public access.

After receiving feedback from over 1,500 stakeholders, the Treasury passed “The Final Rule,” effective April 1, 2022, which allows broader flexibility for SLFRF use and simplifies the overall process. These funds will be provided in two installments, with a requirement for all ARPA monies to be obligated no later than December 31, 2024.

These funds are meant to support individuals and communities who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, whether that means families struggling to make ends meet after unexpected job losses or small businesses fighting to keep their doors open.

Toledo Recovery Plan

The Toledo Recovery Plan represents local efforts to create a SLFRF plan, tailored to local needs, backed by community support and approval. Gretchen DeBacker, Director of Marketing and Communications for the City of Toledo, explained that “The City of Toledo engaged in a lengthy process to gather feedback from residents on how they wanted to see the ARPA money spent. That input resulted in the Toledo Recovery Plan.”

Public engagement began July 15, 2021, and included 6 public meetings, online surveys and open email correspondence. The committee tasked with formulating Toledo’s plan received 1,711 survey responses, 952 open-ended survey answers, 53 email comments and hosted and listened to 300 attendees at various meetings, either in-person or virtually. The conversations revealed that having safe and livable neighborhoods, funding youth activities, recreation and parks programs, creating jobs and economic development, avoiding cuts to city services and promoting green and healthy housing are important to Toledoans. 

A brief overview of project allocation:

  1. Safe and Livable Neighborhoods: $19.3 million, includes blight reduction, residential and commercial demolitions, LED street lighting, sidewalk repair, tree canopy clean-up, mental health services, gun violence initiatives and other crime-stopping, and community/senior service improvements. 
  2. Youth, Recreation, and Parks: $40.5 million, includes universal Pre-K, facility and playground updates and recreational facility upgrades with organizations like the YMCA and Metroparks.
  3. Job Creation and Economic Development: $15.2 million, includes brownfield clean-up, Uptown water/sewage updates, the Healthy Food Incentive Program, culture, arts, and tourism investments and “white-boxing” vacant buildings to analyze a structure’s readiness for new tenant improvements.
  4. Avoiding Cuts to City Services: $81.9 million, includes premium pay for essential workers and municipal revenue replacement.
  5. Green and Healthy Housing: $24 million, includes home preservation and code compliance grants, affordable housing development and the creation of a city-wide lead service line.

A detailed breakdown of these initiatives, as well as progress updates and Toledo-area ARPA news can be found on the city’s website at toledo.oh.gov/recovery

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