As qualified parents or guardians begin receiving their first payments from the Advance Child Tax Credit program this month, state and local governments are watching their own bank accounts, anticipating a windfall of cash from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds program. Both initiatives are a product of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill passed by Congress in March.
Of that, $350 billion is being steered toward eligible state and local governments and tribal organizations, with rules created by the U.S. Department of the Treasury designed “to provide a substantial infusion of resources to help turn the tide on the [COVID-19 pandemic], address its economic fallout and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery.”
Among the allowable uses of the money are supporting the public health response, replacing public sector revenue losses, investing in water and sewer infrastructure, addressing negative economic impacts, providing premium pay for essential workers and improving broadband infrastructure.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s “People First” plan for the city of Mobile’s $58 million allocation made a splash last month, with a proposal to spend at least $27 million on affordable housing, development and rental assistance; $11.2 million worth of bonuses for all employees who were on the payroll throughout the pandemic; and $5.1 million for gun violence response and prevention.
Among that is an estimated $3.5 million for technology and “crime prevention through environmental design” (CPTED) training, both of which are targeted for funding through the bucket addressing “negative economic impacts.”
“Nothing has been submitted yet, so it’s just plans on paper. Plus, it can all shift depending on the [City Council] or if the federal guidance changes, but each project has to be approved by the federal government,” explained city spokesman Jason Johnson “Everything we put into it we ran through our attorneys and federal contacts.”
In Baldwin County, where there is less of a concern of rampant gun violence, municipalities are prioritizing other expenses. The city of Fairhope is expecting $1.9 million — far less than the nearly $4 million it initially anticipated — but the first priority is filling a $500,000 shortfall in the general fund budget caused by the pandemic. During a City Council work session last week, Treasurer Kim Creech noted the city will receive $950,000 as a first-year advance, and the City Council also entertained a recommendation from the Water & Sewer Department to spend $500,000 to replace two failing lift stations, suggesting they may support additional sewer upgrades when the balance of the funding is received next year.
“There are a lot of federal regulations with this,” she said. “Any project we do will have to go through the federal bid process, which is a little different than if we had the money ourselves to go out and do the project.”
The city of Fairhope is currently mired in a lawsuit with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management over excessive sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) and has been prioritizing sewer system improvements for the past several years.
Curiously, although the city of Daphne has only a slightly larger population than Fairhope, it was awarded $3.9 million under the ARPA. Mayor Robin LeJeune said he couldn’t account for the difference, and although the pandemic didn’t significantly affect the city’s budget, the relief money will still be welcome.
“We’re still trying to figure out exactly what we can use it for,” LeJeune said. “We do have some stormwater projects and possibly some broadband applications, but one of the things the City Council will vote on this week is a one-time pay adjustment for employees during that time period. Full-time employees will get $1,500 and part-time employees will get $750. That accounts for about $550,000.”
The Baldwin County Commission was awarded $43.3 million in the ARPA and on Tuesday, voted to spend around 10 percent of it, or $4.2 million, on a new single-stream recycling facility. The commission previously approved $1.8 million worth of smaller ARPA projects, but has a recommended projects list worth at least $32.6 million. Among the larger items on the list are $8.5 million for new jail expansion, $5 million for the Baldwin County Technology School and $3 million for a park and boat launch in the Bon Secour area.
The public comment period on the Treasury Department rules ends July 16, and the final adoption is expected sometime by September.
“We have an internal committee that has been assessing the needs of the county that also meet the U.S. Treasury guidelines for the ARPA funding,” said Baldwin County Director of Public and Government Affairs Sherry-Lea Bloodworth Botop. “We are moving forward with proposed items that have been approved by the commission that we are confident will be covered like sneeze guards for public-facing and close-proximity offices (Council on Aging, Probate, etc.). We have been paying attention to what other entities are committing to fund through ARPA, but until we receive the final guidance, I don’t anticipate the commission committing to spending large amounts of ARPA funding.”
Mobile County was awarded $80.2 million in ARPA funds and just prior to deadline this week, Public Affairs Manager Dena Pollard said there were no immediate plans for its use, but the county expects to hire a consultant to evaluate priorities.
The state of Alabama will receive $2.1 billion in funds from the ARPA program, $1.6 billion of which was funding based on the average number of unemployed workers during the pandemic. Gov. Kay Ivey’s office did not respond to requests for additional information by press time.
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here