The American Rescue Plan could pump nearly $275 million of pandemic relief aid into local governments and school districts in Erie County.
The National Association of Counties estimates that Erie County government will get $52.3 million from the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, which President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday.
The city of Erie announced Thursday that it is expecting an estimated $79.1 million in direct relief, according to the National League of Cities.
Millcreek Township, which like the city of Erie will receive direct funding from the American Rescue Plan through a modified Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) formula, is in line for an estimated $6.5 million, according to the NLC.
Boroughs and townships in Erie County with under 50,000 people will receive a combined $12 million, according to the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.
And the county’s 13 public school districts will receive a combined $123 million, of which $70 million will go to the Erie School District alone. Those districts are required to carve out funding for private schools.
“This is our moment,” Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper said, “to take a 30,000-foot view at all of this money coming in. How can we leverage it in collaboration with those other entities getting money? How can we leverage it with the other money that’s either already in the community or that is potential funding coming into the community?”
Overall, Pennsylvania is expected to receive $12.9 billion from the American Rescue Plan, which includes more than $5.7 billion for local government.
Erie Mayor Joe Schember announced the city’s nearly $79.1 million in estimated relief aid on Thursday. In a statement, Schember praised U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Biden.
“Last year, I talked with Senator Bob Casey three times about the threat that the pandemic was posing to cities and other local governments across Pennsylvania,” Schember said. “I stressed the need for federal help to deal with the specific challenges we were facing.”
Schember described the past year as challenging and said the city has worked with its labor unions to reduce costs and to find new sources of revenue.
“The city has borne heavy costs dealing with the pandemic, including the need for safety modifications, the purchase of PPE and supplies, decreased revenues in taxes and fees and increased labor costs as a result of employee leave due to exposures as well as confirmed positive cases,” Schember said in the statement. “We believe that the ARP funds will enable the city to be reimbursed and we hope to be able to use the funding to set the stage for future growth.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., U.S. Reps. Mike Kelly, R-16th Dist., and Glenn Thompson, R-15th Dist., voted against the bill, which was passed on partisan lines.
After casting his first no vote on the bill in late February, Kelly, in a statement, questioned the size of the bill.
“No amount of deficit spending will heal an economy that remains locked down,” Kelly said. “This so-called American Rescue Plan focuses more on progressive pet projects than opening America, while only 9% of this bill focuses on COVID testing and vaccine distribution. Congress’ top priorities must be to get Americans back to work, our kids back to school, more efficient vaccine distribution, and a return to fiscal sanity so we can get our country back on a path to prosperity.”
The question now is how will and how can the money be spent.
For both the city and county, the money is well above what they needed to recoup lost revenue and additional costs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schember, in an interview with the Erie Times-News Thursday, said he hopes to use a portion of the city’s funding to plug an estimated $5 million in lost tax revenue between 2020 and the end of 2021. The city still has about $500,000 of pandemic-related expenses that weren’t covered by previous stimulus packages, he said.
Dahlkemper said previous pandemic stimulus packages have helped Erie County government recover most of its additional expenditures and revenue losses, with the exception of the Erie County Health Department.
Dahlkemper, Schember and several others have already started discussing how best to use the massive influx of federal funds. Dahlkemper expects agencies like the Erie International Airport and the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority, among others, to be part of ongoing discussions because they will likely receive separate funding through the law.
“I’m planning on bringing, probably late next week, everybody around the table to sort of have that community conversation,” Dahlkemper said. “Because I don’t want to take this moment and squander it. I know people all do good things with their money, but if we all do it in our own silos, I think we’re going to miss out on an opportunity to really collectively move this community forward.”
“It really does give us, I think, a once in maybe a couple of generations opportunity, not just once in a lifetime,” he said. “I’ve never heard of anything like this ever happening before. And I think it’s essential that we all get together and collaborate and coordinate.”
One possible project, Dahlkemper and Schember said, could be to address the community’s broadband infrastructure, both in areas of Erie County where families aren’t equipped to learn remotely or work from home and in areas where high-speed broadband doesn’t exist.
The county worked with some entities to address that issue last year using money from the federal CARES Act, she said, but it was only a temporary fix.
Officials are reviewing details of the American Rescue Plan Act to learn how the money can be spent.
Millcreek Township Supervisor John Morgan said that the township’s $6.5 million share, “is a significant revenue influx for the township. Once federal guidance is issued on how the funds can be utilized, we will evaluate the best use of the funds for our community.”
“We’re delving into that now,” Dahlkemper said, “but it doesn’t seem that there are a lot of (strings attached). There will be some, I’m sure.”
Schember was reluctant to discuss possible uses for the money until he learns more about such restrictions.
“I’ve been on a plateau here, way up, and I can’t just come down,” he said. “I’m looking forward to learning more about it and doing the best thing we can for the entire region.”
American Rescue Plan
County & Large Municipalities
- Erie County — $52.3 million
- City of Erie — $79.1 million
- Millcreek Township — $6.5 million
Townships, Cities and Boroughs Under 50,000
- Albion Borough — $143,260
- Amity Township — $103,614
- Concord Township — $126,353
- Conneaut Township — $436,206
- Corry city — $613,772
- Cranesville Borough — $58,826
- Edinboro Borough — $545,257
- Elgin Borough — $20,268
- Elk Creek Township — $172,525
- Fairview Township — $992,338
- Franklin Township — $159,573
- Girard Borough — $288,002
- Girard Township — $479,905
- Greene Township — $444,016
- Greenfield Township — $186,070
- Harborcreek Township — $1,689,753
- Lake City Borough — $282,169
- Lawrence Park Township — $370,162
- LeBoeuf Township — $162,045
- McKean Borough — $36,482
- McKean Township — $426,912
- Mill Village Borough — $38,064
- North East Borough — $398,735
- North East Township — $611,103
- Platea Borough — $39,547
- Springfield Township — $324,287
- Summit Township — $715,112
- Union City Borough — $308,270
- Union Township — $157,497
- Venango Township — $221,959
- Washington Township — $436,996
- Waterford Borough — $147,808
- Waterford Township — $401,206
- Wattsburg Borough — $37,669
- Wayne Township — $154,630
- Wesleyville Borough — $308,171
Erie County Public School Districts
- Corry Area — $8.2 million
- Erie — $77.5 million
- Fairview — $1.3 million
- Fort LeBoeuf — $3.6 million
- General McLane — $2.7 million
- Girard — $4.9 million
- Harbor Creek — $2.3 million
- Iroquois — $3.1 million
- Millcreek — $9.5 million
- North East — $3 million
- Northwestern — $1.5 million
- Wattsburg Area — $2 million
- Union City — $3.4 million
SOURCES: National League of Cities, National Association of Counties; Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit.