This Week in Federal Funds

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Route Fifty’s This Week in Federal Funding newsletter provides weekly updates on what’s happening with the pandemic-era aid dollars the federal government is sending to states and localities. The newsletter goes out on Tuesdays and Route Fifty Today subscribers receive it automatically. If you don’t subscribe to Route Fifty Today and would like to receive This Week in Federal Funding, you can sign up for it here.

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Welcome to Route Fifty’s This Week in Federal Funding! I’m Senior Editor Bill Lucia.

From R50 This Week: The next round of federal funding targeting homelessness—nearly $5 billion for HOME Investment Partnership Programs—could jump-start long-term efforts to reduce homelessness, writes veteran policy reporter Jacob Fischler. Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam hopes to spend $485 million in coronavirus relief money to shore up the state’s behavioral health resources, reports Kate Queram. She also writes about ways that localities and states can leverage federal funding to help small businesses in equitable ways.

What we’re watching: County-city cooperation. Going forward, it’s going to be interesting to track how, and to what extent, overlapping counties and cities coordinate on American Rescue Plan Act spending. “All of the counties received funds,” said Eryn Hurley, an associate legislative director with the National Association of Counties. “That opens up a lot of doors when we’re talking about county-city collaboration of how to invest these funds, to make sure that there’s no duplication of efforts or that gaps go unseen.” There are good reasons why this type of coordination can make sense. But working across levels of government can be complicated and different places, while overlapping, might have priorities that don’t necessarily align with what their neighbors want to do. Hurley noted that the U.S. Treasury Department recently clarified that it’s okay for communities to pool or transfer ARPA dollars to fund regional projects.

Leon County, Florida, where the state capital of Tallahassee is located, offers an example of a city and county working together to allocate a slice of federal funding. In mid-July, the city and county commissions jointly agreed to direct $6.2 million of ARPA spending towards programs focused on homelessness and housing. “With these funds we have the opportunity to make some significant inroads and help those struggling with homelessness,” County Commission Chairman Rick Minor said at the time, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. Leon County received a total of about $57 million under ARPA, and Tallahassee about $46 million

Many cities and counties, Hurley added, are still in the early stages of planning ARPA spending. “We definitely expect to see more examples of this type of collaboration,” she said.

Elsewhere… Guaranteed income pilot programs are getting attention lately and gaining traction across the country––including in California where state lawmakers in July approved the nation’s first state-funded plan. Some local governments are turning to ARPA dollars for guaranteed income programs or other types of direct cash assistance. 

For example, the Minneapolis council last month signed off on a nearly $102 million ARPA spending plan with $3 million to provide up to $500 per month for two years for about 200 households. And in allocating $128 million of federal recovery funding in June, the Seattle City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan approved $25 million for providing direct cash payments to families. An earlier round of this program targeted immigrant and refugee families. It delivered a total of​​ $7.94 million in cash grants last year to 3,703 applicants, according to the city, with individual payments ranging from $1,000 to $3,000 depending on household size. The latest iteration will be broader in scope and the intent is that it will be open to all low-income families, with an emphasis on reaching people disproportionately affected by Covid-19. The National League of Cities had a recent rundown of some of the plans surfacing in cities that would involve using ARPA funds for different types of income support.

Two of the mayors on hand at our Future Cities event last week discussed guaranteed income efforts––Daniel Biss of Evanston, Illinois and Lauren Poe of Gainesville, Florida. (Recordings of those discussions and others are archived here.) Evanston’s work around guaranteed income is taking place in the context of a reparations program funded by marijuana tax revenue. The reparations initiative for now has $10 million committed to it, of which about $400,000 has been allotted for a housing-related program. It’s possible that some of the remainder could go to an income program that gives cash payments, Biss said.

Separately, $300,000 from Northwestern University will go toward a guaranteed income pilot. Biss said Evanston is exploring the potential of using some of its roughly $43 million ARPA allotment for income support programs. “It’s important for us to name the provision of a reasonable, workable income, to give people the ability to live in dignity,” he said, “as not only a great thing for somebody else to do, but a core responsibility of the public sector.” There are of course counterpoints to that view.

That’s it for this week. In the meantime, if you have news tips or feedback on what we should be covering, if you want to share your community’s story, or if you just want to say hello, please email us at: editor@routefifty.com. Thanks for reading!

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