President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in March, which provided $350 billion in extra funding for local and state governments.
During a Sept. 7 Flagstaff City Council meeting, staff discussed the legislation, and the council’s budget team walked through how the funding could be used in the community.
The National Association of Counties stated the bill not only includes $65.1 billion of direct funding and flexible aid to every county in America, but also crucial investments in local communities.
Sarah Langley, interim public affairs director for the city, talked about the funding provided by ARPA — although council was still waiting on the United States Department of the Treasury to confirm what programs are available for allocations under the act. Council’s presentation analyzed the intent behind spending funds, such as contributions to clean energy and community resilience, while also acknowledging the prohibited uses of tax deduction and pension funds.
“The bill focuses on traditional infrastructure elements such as surface transportation, airports and water infrastructure,” Langley said. “Though the bill hasn’t been passed yet, it most likely will take many months to approve the funding.”
The timeframe for funds to officially be allocated is March 3, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2024. According to the National League of Cities, all the funds must be used by December 2026.
Stacey Brechler-Knaggs is the grants and contract manager, as well as disaster recovery coordinator for Flagstaff. She discussed the significance of being transparent with funds directed toward helping the community, especially during this time of post-Museum Fire flooding.
“The funds can be used for public health [and] negative economic impacts service to disproportionately impacted communities, premium pay infrastructure, revenue replacement administrative and other costs,” Brechler-Knaggs said. “The city is responsible for responding to current community needs, such as the COVID-19 public health emergency and meeting necessary funds to help advance the racial equity and support of underserved communities.”
According to the ARPA spending guide from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, ARPA funds can be distributed to these subcategories and other areas: Public health, negative economic impacts, service to disproportionately impacted communities and premium pay, along with investments in sewer, water and broadband infrastructure among them.
City management analyst Rick Tadder said the budget draft proposal of the ARPA allocated funds for 15 categories. The proposal includes $500,000 for the vaccination incentive program, $200,000 for congregate setting agencies such as shelters and schools, $75,000 in mental health and substance services and $2.4 million in pilot programs to assist with alternate care services.
Councilmember Regina Salas said more funding should be available for community food and nutrition support. Salas was particularly interested in investing funds to nonprofits that are directly linked to providing shelter services in Flagstaff, such as Hope Cottage and Catholic Charity Services. She asked the council to “identify more support services that offer shelter for the homeless, shelter for animals and food services.”
Other councilmembers and public attendees made statements concerning the allocation of extra money toward housing and shelter in Flagstaff. Devonna McLaughlin, CEO of housing solutions of northern Arizona, in addition to Vice Mayor Becky Daggett, both raised concerns about distributing more ARPA funds for housing assistance programs.
According to the Arizona Daily Sun, councilmember Austin Aslan said funds could be pulled from tourism recovery to support more programs for food, care and housing assistance.
The draft proposal is also set to invest $355,000 in tourism-related business, $500,000 for small businesses, $725,000 for nonprofits and $50,000 for community resources to aid a quick economic recovery.
ARPA funds will be dispersed throughout Flagstaff in the next five years to a variety of organizations and departments in Coconino County. Furthermore, the CARES Act is set to return to council with revisions and additions for approval.