With about $350 billion flooding into the coffers of state and local governments from the American Rescue Plan, politicians are looking for practical and creative ways to handle windfall.
“The inclination is to spread money around like peanut butter, so that you help out a lot of people who need relief,” Austin, Texas Mayor Steve Adler, a Democrat, said in an interview with the New York Times Tuesday. “But nobody really gets all that they need when you do that.”
The most recent $1.9 trillion federal COVID-19 relief package passed in March and is now showing up in the accounts of state and local governments, many of which, were financially strapped either before, or during the pandemic.
Some states are using the funds to repair or build infrastructure, others are using the money to tackle long-held problems or fill budget shortfalls.
Others are finding creative ways to distribute the money, while keeping political advantage in mind.
Some of the states used the money to fund vaccine incentive programs or lotteries to raise its number of inoculated residents, while others are using it to try out ideas like providing universal basic incomes for a period.
“We are nothing if not responsive to good ideas,” Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser on the national COVID-19 response said in a USA Today article in May. “We encourage states to use their creativity to draw attention to vaccines and get their states and the country back to normal as quickly as possible.”
Meanwhile, the Office of the City Controller in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, put out a release recommending the funds going to that city be used to combat gun violence, address poverty issues and the opioid epidemic, as well as providing some $101 million for small businesses to aid in the post-pandemic recovery and growth.
In addition to other priorities, Maine is spending a total of $36 million on bolstering fisheries and wildlife infrastructure as well as improving the fishing industry and monitoring.
Not all politicians are so ready, however, to use the money as President Joe Biden suggested, to deal with the recent spike in crime.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said again Tuesday that he would not use the estimated $6 billion coming to the city in the aid package to hire more police officers, despite Gov. Andrew Cuomo declaring a state of emergency due to the city’s rapidly rising crime rate.
“The money that the president focused was for certain cities that were dealing with much more profound gun-violence problems than New York is,” de Blasio claimed during his weekly appearance on Brian Lehrer’s show. “We have a problem, Brian. I am not trying to minimize it. We have a lot of work to do to turn around. But several other American cities unfortunately are going through much, much worse, and that’s where that money was targeted.”
Cuomo on Tuesday made the emergency declaration, rebuking de Blasio’s comments, and announced he would be spending some $139 million from the state’s take of the relief funds to combat the gun violence epidemic in the city.
“It is a matter of saving lives, and New York’s future depends on it, “Cuomo said at a news conference at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “People are not coming back to this city, they’re not coming back to any city, until they know they are safe.”
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