Guest columnist John Corlett is president and executive director of The Center for Community Solutions. Corlett’s career has included leadership roles in both the public and private sectors, including serving as vice president for government relations and community affairs at The MetroHealth System and as the State of Ohio’s Medicaid director. He also serves on the Board of Directors of Circle Health Services, The Greater Cleveland Food Bank, United Way of Greater Cleveland and the Woodruff Foundation.
Just a few short months ago, Congress passed — and President Joseph Biden signed — the historic American Rescue Plan (ARP).
ARP provides $350 billion in state and local fiscal recovery funds for responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency and to address the negative economic impacts resulting from the pandemic.
This level of federal financial aid to state and local governments is unprecedented.
The State of Ohio is due to receive $5.3 billion between 2021 and 2022. This state aid is on top of another $29.4 billion received across scores of programs.
In Northeast Ohio, the City of Cleveland will receive just over half a billion dollars; Cuyahoga County, $239 million; and surrounding counties and cities will receive millions more in aid.
Unlike earlier rounds of aid, ARP provides state and local governments with a great deal of flexibility in terms of how the dollars are invested. This includes giving governments nearly five years to spend the money, allowing the transfer of dollars to nonprofit organizations and providing a broad range of examples of how the funds might be invested to aid those who were disproportionally impacted by the pandemic.
The Greater Ohio Policy Center issued an excellent document, 11 Principles for Maximizing American Rescue Plan’s Funding Opportunities, which should be required reading for every local and state policymaker.
Two recommendations immediately jumped out at me.
First, “slow down the spending, speed up the planning.” Taking time to gather input and incorporate ideas from local residents can help ensure that public support exists to maintain improvements funded by the ARP.
Two, “use ARP to begin rectifying inequities.” COVID-19 illustrated numerous inequities that were the result of racism. Black and brown Ohioans were more likely to get infected with the coronavirus, to lose jobs and/or to die, and less likely to get the health care they needed and/or to get vaccinated.
ARP funds can be used to dismantle racist practices and policies, to ensure equitable vaccine access and so much more.
Locally, the Greater Cleveland COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund, with the help of the Center for Community Solutions, convened five policy teams, widely representative of the fund and its community partners, to identify priorities for investment of state ARP funds.
The groups consisted of over 100 people from local government, philanthropic, nonprofit and community-based organizations — tasked with developing recommendations addressing childhood well-being, food security, housing stability, public health and workforce development.
Among the recommendations: Use ARP funds to modernize lead-poisoning prevention, screening and testing; catalyze investments in affordable housing via the Housing Trust fund; boost the distribution of healthy foods; invest in public health; and help Ohioans get back to work through a range of supports.
Locally, Participatory Budgeting Cleveland has been launched with the goal of persuading City of Cleveland elected officials to enable residents to make decisions about how to spend $30.8 million in recovery funds using a participatory budgeting process. The number represents the percentage of Cleveland residents living in poverty and whose lives were most upended by COVID-19.
Policymakers would be wise to take this advice. We will make better and more long-lasting decisions about how to spend these funds if we take our time to ensure that everyone has a say in making the best investments possible.
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