The American Rescue Plan (ARPA) was signed into law on March 11, 2021. Like the previous iterations of COVID-19 recovery bills, ARPA created programs and allocated funding “to address continuing pandemic-related crises, and fund recovery efforts as the United States begins to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
For state and local governments, institutions of higher education, and community organizations, ARPA funding was established to equip them with capital to solve problems they deemed necessary. With very open guidance from the Fed, these funds were able to be utilized by groups for whatever purpose aimed at recovery or infrastructure improvement. The goals of these projects are widely ranging even among similar entities, but reporting and the process difficulties they present are very similar.
What are ARPA funds?
ARPA funds are $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, territorial, and Tribal governments created by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 in order to address the rising costs and diminished revenues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. ARPA funding included:
- $195 billion for states
- $130 billion for local governments
- $20 billion for tribal governments
- $4.5 billion for territories
These funds were intended specifically to support the public health response and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable economic recovery. Funding was set to assist governments in covering costs incurred from the public health emergency and to provide support recovery through assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, impacted industries (especially tourism and hospitality), and essential workers. ARPA funding also provided resources for governments to invest in infrastructure, including water, sewer, and broadband services. Finally, all ARPA funding needs to be spent in its entirety by the end of 2024. The ARPA also established defined reporting requirements for all requesting entities.
Rolling Out and Tracking Programs
With the resources to address community problems, identifying what issues to address becomes the easy part. The question is how entities are able to roll out these programs rapidly and effectively. Tracking and managing all aspects of the project goals and processes is a significant hurdle and is time-consuming and difficult. In many cases, these complex problems require disparate systems to communicate with one another, especially when citizens need to access systems. Agile platforms, like Quickbase, allow for these new projects and processes to be rolled out securely and easily.
What is Being Done with ARPA Funding?
ARP funds began being distributed by the Treasury Department in Q2 2021 and most groups have already received at least half of their allocated funds. Examples of what is planned and what is being accomplished with this funding are becoming very evident.
State & Local Governments
The majority of ARPA money were designated as State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF). The SLFRF are earmarked for state and local governments to address COVID-specific costs (like testing, PPE, vaccination operationalization, outbreak response), infrastructure improvements, and economic recovery efforts. This funding has also been utilized to incentivize citizens and government employees to get the vaccine. Here’s how some localities are using their funding:
- In Kitsap County, WA county board has identified a number of projects to fund with ARPA money. They include $6.6 million to build broadband internet nodes in underserved areas, $10 million to construct new pump stations, $3.5 million to upgrade the ventilation system in the county jail, $2.1 million for body cameras for the sheriff’s office deputies, $1.8 million for youth, senior and childcare programs in underserved communities, and $14 million for several different eviction prevention, food insecurity and rental assistance programs.
- The city of Syracuse, NY is proposing to use $824,000 in the American Rescue Plan Act relief fund on programs for employment training for their residents. The city plans to recruit unemployed and underemployed residents for training, certifications and apprenticeship programs in order find jobs in central New York.
- In Mason City, IA, ARPA funds are being utilized for infrastructure improvements and to address housing inequities. The local government has planned to spend $1 million on low-to-moderate income housing development and $700k for sanitary sewer repair and utility rerouting work.
- The government in the Johnson County, IN received $36 million in CARES Act and ARPA funding. They also received health department grants totaling $778,607. This funding has gone to covering costs incurred by the public health response and building improvements brought on by the pandemic. Money has been spent on COVID-19 testing, vaccination clinics, staffing costs, and public safety pay. In order to make county buildings more equipped to slow the spread of the virus, installations of touchless bathroom fixtures, walk-through temperature scanners, sneeze guards, hand sanitizer dispensers, air purification systems, and a touchless body scanners (at county jail) were funded by ARPA, as well as $1000s spent on PPE, sanitizing wipes, and cleaning supplies.
- The Deschutes County, OR government is using several million dollars to infuse non-profit programs in their region which support food assistance, homelessness, low-cost healthcare, and mental health services. Included in these projects are the creation of a 10,000 square foot food bank warehouse and classroom space and the establishment of 36 units of permanent supportive housing for residents who are exiting chronic homelessness.
- The Governor of South Carolina is proposing the ARPA funds are used as an investment in a to speed up a large infrastructure project. Using $360 million in funding, Governor McMaster would like to speed up the wide I-26 between Charleston, SC and the state capitol in Columbia.
- Vaccine incentives have also become a very common use for remaining unallocated ARPA funding. Governments across states, counties, and towns are adopting incentive programs to get their citizens and employees vaccinated. Government employees in Anne Arundel County, MD will receive a one-time $1,000 payment if they get vaccinated for COVID-19 by November 30. This includes employees who were already vaccinated. The city of Statesboro, GA is planning to spend $50,000 on incentives to get residents vaccinated. This includes two hundred $50 gift cards to be distributed during a two-hour public COVID-19 vaccination clinic inside Statesboro City Hall, as well as monetary prizes and electronic gifts (Beats headphones, laptops, video game consoles) which will be raffled off to vaccinated individuals.
To serve colleges and universities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund III (HEERF III) was authorized by the American Rescue Plan (ARP) providing $39.6 billion in support to institutions of higher education. The purpose of HEERF III was to serve students and ensure learning continues during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was an additional allocation of funding after CARES Act (HEERF I) and CRRSAA (HEERF II) relief funding bringing the total or all emergency funds to $76.2 billion. Schools are using this money to make up for lost revenue, make campuses more COVID safe, improve facilities, hire staff, and, most importantly, help students.
- After losing an estimated $100 million in revenue last year, Texas Tech is set to receive $140 million in ARPA funds. Money has already been spent by the university to on tuition and fees, COVID testing, PPE for staff, and off-campus housing for students in quarantine. Thanks to this large Federal investment, they are also able to hire more staff, provide merit raises, and address equity and compression. All factors which didn’t seem possible last year.
- Student COVID Relief Funds have been established by many institutions because of their ARPA funding. Cameron University in Oklahoma created a fund with their allocation to distribute to enrolled students with priority given to those with exceptional financial need. Cameron’s fund states, “Each eligible student enrolled in Summer 2021 with a verified expected family contribution (EFC) of $5,711 or less will receive a $600 distribution. Other enrolled students in Summer 2021 will receive $400. Grant amounts for Fall 2021 and Spring 2022 will be determined at a later date.” Similar programs have been started at colleges all over the country including Mississippi State,University of Southern Mississippi,Troy University, and the University of Virginia.
- Addressing student debt has also become a common use for colleges’ ARPA funds. More than 20 HBCUs including Florida A&M, Dillard University, Norfolk State, and Clark Atlanta University are applying funding they’ve received through HEERF directly to student balances clearing more than $25 million in student debt. Schools have also used it to clear unpaid balances for previous semesters.
Healthcare groups were clearly the most severely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic has pushed their capacity for care and resources to their limits. ARPA funding was funneled through state and local governments to support vaccine access, COVID treatment capacity, healthcare accessibility, staffing, and program development.
- The Tennessee Department of Health highlighted staffing as the greatest “limiting factor” in providing care to the Volunteer State. To that end, the department requested $100 million in hospital staffing assistance for the state’s health care providers for at least five months, $113 million for recruiting and retaining health care providers, focusing on rural and at-risk areas, and $35 million for programs to promote homegrown health care professionals in rural areas. Additional requests included $177.8 million for a rural health care transformation study and program implementation, $92 million toward core public health services enhancements, $85 million toward community-drive assessments and implementation through county health departments, and $21.6 million for a caregiver support initiative that included creating Alzheimer’s and dementia assessment clinics.
- Papa Ola Lokahi and five Native Hawaiian Health Care Centers received $20 million of ARPA money to serve the very specific needs of Native Hawaiians. Their grant money is set to increase vaccine access, COVID-19 response and treatment capacity, sustain accessible health care services, and deliver education and services across the islands. The group also plans to use remaining funding for mobile units to bring vaccines into communities and expand health care access in the future.
Quickbase gives ARPA program administrators the ability to build custom, flexible workflows easily. For public access, create digital forms for citizen inputs or link between project management systems to centralize all critical information. A Quickbase application also surfaces all project data in a single location. Agility platforms allow users to track the very specific items they need and make quarterly and annual reporting a breeze.