In Spring 2022, municipalities across the country received their second and final tranche of local fiscal recovery resources from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). Signed into law in March 2021, ARPA provided an unprecedented $130 billion in flexible resources to cities and counties to spend over five years to address the immediate economic and health impacts of the pandemic and rebuild stronger, more equitable economies.
Aligned with the Biden Administration’s racial equity executive order, the US Department of the Treasury prioritized equity in its spending guidelines for the ARPA funds. Grantees were encouraged to target resources to the communities of color, tribal communities, and low-income communities disproportionately negatively impacted by the pandemic, and to invest in projects that address the systemic health and economic challenges causing such disparities. Following many municipalities’ commitments to address structural racism in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing mass protests, ARPA presented a unique opportunity to back these commitments with tangible investments in the people and communities directly harmed by systemic racism.
Building on the equitable investment framework shared in the PolicyLink report, 10 Priorities for Advancing Racial Equity Through the American Rescue Plan Act: A Guide for City and County Policymakers, PolicyLink and the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School are tracking whether and how local governments are using their ARPA funds to further equity. Reviewing the initial investment processes and decisions of 63 large cities, our analysis found that while 90 percent of them described some level of commitment to equitably investing their ARPA resources, only about a third were using equity frameworks or tools to decide how to use the resources, and similarly about a third had dedicated staff who focused on equity. Our research also surfaced many positive examples of cities using an equity lens to decide how to spend their funds, engaging the communities most impacted by the pandemic and structural inequities in the decision-making process, and making investments that promise to promote equitable access and outcomes.
This brief features case studies of four communities — Boston; Los Angeles County; Savannah, Georgia; and St. Louis — that illustrate how local governments can center equity in the process of selecting investments and dedicate the funds to projects with the best promise to advance equity. We selected these places based on our review of 63 large cities’ performance reports submitted to the US Treasury as well as our tracking of ARPA investments through local and national media articles and conversations in the field. Recognizing the importance of providing examples relevant to Southern cities, which are home to a disproportionate share of Black Americans yet often face state-level politics hostile to equity-promoting policies, we also collaborated with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to identify a smaller, Southern city to include. The case studies are based on public data and reporting about the communities’ ARPA plans as well as interviews with government officials and community advocates to understand their approaches, investments, challenges, and potential success factors.
Together, the case studies demonstrate how equity-focused tools and approaches, such as equity principles, equity funding formulas, equity indices/indicators using disaggregated data, and inclusive community engagement, help local governments decide on the optimal mix of investments.
They also reveal the types of equitable public investments that ARPA is making possible. For example:
- Fare-free transit. Boston funded a two-year expansion and evaluation of its fare-free transit bus pilot in several South Boston environmental justice communities that aren’t connected to the city’s subway system. St. Louis also funded free transit passes for youth.
- Guaranteed income. Building upon the success of its large ARPA-funded direct cash assistance program, St. Louis dedicated $5 million to an 18-month guaranteed income pilot program in December 2022. The program will provide $500 monthly payments to low-income families with children in the city’s public schools.
- Supporting childcare providers. Boston, Los Angeles County, and St. Louis are helping childcare businesses — overwhelmingly owned and run by women, and disproportionately women of color and immigrants — launch, recruit, and retain staff, and grow to meet community needs.
- Affordable housing. All four communities are investing in strategies to address their housing crises such as growing their housing trust funds, enabling low-income homeownership, dedicating publicly owned land for affordable housing, acquiring properties for permanently affordable homes, and testing new models to prevent displacement.
And the case studies underscore how four factors — community advocacy and voice, institutional infrastructure for equity, equity data systems and research, and equity leadership from the top — play key roles in supporting equitable public investment.
- Community advocacy and voice. In Los Angeles County, the Coalition for Equitable ARPA Implementation led by Catalyst California successfully advocated for the county’s Board of Supervisors to adopt a set of equity principles to guide investment decisions (including using the funds to reduce racial inequities and not for policing or incarceration), an equity funding formula to distribute the resources based on an index of community need, and an equity dashboard to track performance over time. Of the first round of ARPA spending decisions, 75 percent of funds went to the neighborhoods hardest hit by the pandemic.
- Institutional infrastructure for equity. Boston’s equity-driven approach to its ARPA allocations followed from its existing processes, structures, and policy commitments that apply an equity lens to governing. The city has been on a trajectory of institutionalizing an equity approach into local policymaking for nearly 20 years, beginning with its public health agency’s work to examine racism as a key driver of health disparities and expanding to a citywide focus with the launch of the Mayor’s Office of Resilience & Racial Equity in 2015.
- Equity data systems and research. Equitable ARPA investment begins with understanding which people, neighborhoods, and sectors have been most impacted by the pandemic and structural racism, and to what extent. From Savannah’s Racial Equity and Leadership (REAL) Task Force report Seeing Savannah Through a Racial Equity Lens to Los Angeles County’s Covid-19 Vulnerability and Recovery Index to Boston’s Recovery Dashboard to St. Louis’s Equity Indicators, all four communities developed investment strategies that are informed by the facts about racial and spatial inequities. And equitable public investment requires data democratization and transparency: localities need to regularly report on investment performance and outcomes for targeted populations and neighborhoods. These case studies illustrate models for building such systems, such as Boston’s demographic data collection template and Los Angeles’s ARP Project Dashboard.
- Leadership from the top. Boston’s Mayor Michelle Wu won a historic election campaign centered on her vision of a local Green New Deal recovery, becoming the city’s first woman mayor as well as its first mayor of color. Similarly, the focal point of St. Louis’s Mayor Tishaura Jones’s bid for office was her “People’s Agenda,” which focused on using federal stimulus funds to “make bold investments designed to chart a new course towards justice, equity, and democracy.” Both leaders have led the charge locally to use ARPA’s unprecedented resources to advance equity. Savannah’s Mayor Van R. Johnson exerted equity leadership by creating the Racial Equity and Leadership (REAL) Task Force in 2020 and using ARPA funds to invest in its recommendations. In Los Angeles County, Supervisor and Chair Holly Mitchell is a longtime equity champion who garnered support for the county’s Anti-Racism, Diversity, and Equity Initiative to guide the county’s ongoing commitment to fighting racism and is actively working to ensure equitable ARPA implementation.
With many local governments still in the process of selecting their second round of ARPA investments, we hope these case studies inspire and instruct local government leaders as to how they too can make equitable decisions around their remaining ARPA local fiscal recovery funds. We also hope they equip community organizations and funders with examples they can use to advocate for equity-focused ARPA investments.
We also recognize that equitable allocation processes and investment choices are just the first two steps of the process — the next is equitable implementation. Equitable practices and policies — targeted outreach to underserved communities, regular feedback and engagement with program beneficiaries, partnerships with trusted community-rooted organizations, inclusive contracting, anti-displacement strategies, language access, cultural competency, and more — will be critical to translating equity investment potential into equity outcomes. We will continue to track these and other communities and investments to highlight successes and learnings as the focus shifts to implementation.
Boston: Investing to Accelerate a Green New Deal
Of its $558 million in ARPA fiscal recovery funds, Boston has allocated $552 million toward 116 projects and $95 million for revenue replacement. Building upon a strong foundation of equity-focused processes, policies, and structures, Boston is leveraging the ARPA resources to actualize Mayor Wu’s vision for a local Green New Deal. The city’s largest investment category was affordable housing, which was the top concern voiced by community members throughout the engagement process in the country’s second most expensive city for renters. In its second report to the Treasury, the city reported that about 90 percent of allocated funds are dedicated to disproportionately impacted communities.
As the current Chief of Equity and Inclusion Mariangely Solis Cervera puts it, "In order to get different outcomes, we must invest in different practices. Much of the work of building an equitable city is to be able to identify the gaps in opportunities. We are building a foundation for a City government that prioritizes our historically excluded communities".
Boston’s ARPA Investments
Source: City of Boston 2022 Recovery Plan Performance Report, https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/Boston_2022RecoveryPlan_SLT-0542.pdf.
Centering Equity in the Decision-making Process
Driven by disaggregated data. The city’s practice of collecting and analyzing disaggregated data to develop equitable strategies was foundational to its approach to ARPA investments. At the beginning of the pandemic, Boston built a comprehensive data dashboard to track its health and economic impacts by race/ethnicity, age, immigration status, gender, neighborhood, and industry. This dashboard revealed how women, low-paid workers, workers without a college degree, communities of color, immigrants, younger workers, and small businesses were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. It also showed that East Boston, Mattapan, Roxbury, Dorchester, and Hyde Park had the highest rates of Covid-19 infection as well as unemployment. Celina Barrios-Millner, Boston’s former Chief of Equity and Inclusion, described how the data helped drive a focus on equity by prioritizing the most impacted populations and neighborhoods.
Other data analyses also influenced the city’s equity focus and approach, including the 2021 disparity study, which found that less than one half percent of prime contracts in the city went to Black-owned businesses even though they represented about 4 percent of available firms for such contracts, and an earlier, in-depth Color of Wealth study of the city’s deep racial wealth disparities.
Prioritizing racial equity as a key value. Racial equity was an explicit priority in the city’s process. City leaders put forth a set of key values that would drive ARPA investment decisions that included racial equity along with transformative solutions to systemic issues including climate justice, good jobs, and health.
Key Values Informing Boston’s ARPA Investment Strategy
Source: City of Boston 2022 Recovery Plan Performance Report, https://home.treasury.gov/system/files/136/Boston_2022RecoveryPlan_SLT-0542.pdf.
Building on two decades of work to institutionalize equity. The city’s focus on equity through its ARPA spending builds upon nearly two decades of work institutionalizing an equity focus throughout government operations, beginning in the health department and expanding to a citywide effort in 2015. The Chief of Equity and Inclusion — a position first established in 2020 — played a central role throughout the investment process. Barrios-Millner described how she and the Chief Financial Officer constituted the core working group driving the work forward. Prior to the pandemic, city departments had been incorporating equity analysis into their decision-making, including by using an equity budgeting tool to assess equity impacts.
Listening to the most impacted communities, including non-English speakers. Community engagement was integral to deciding how to invest the resources. The city convened an Equitable Recovery Taskforce comprising 30 community members working in the nonprofit, private, and public sectors to advise on the city’s investments, and simultaneously launched a “Let’s Go Better” community listening campaign which engaged 600 residents through 15 issue-specific meetings. The campaign sought to engage people from communities disproportionately impacted by Covid-19 by working with community leaders, providing interpretation services, and making materials available in multiple languages. The city also used multilingual surveys, regular meetings with community organizations and small businesses, and its 311 phone service to garner community input. Language accessibility is a strong focus in Boston, which has a large low-income immigrant population, and the city dedicated $250,000 in ARPA funds to increase access to ARPA-funded programs for residents who speak languages other than English.
Aligning with other equity-focused initiatives. The ARPA spending plan also built upon prior plans and ongoing equity-focused efforts including a 2021 Health Equity Now roadmap produced by a community task force, as well as the city’s food access, digital equity, and inclusive procurement initiatives.
Investing in Equity
The city’s first round of allocations focused on projects that met the urgent needs of people, businesses, and neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by the Covid pandemic, and also supported the expansion of its groundbreaking fare-free bus pilot.
- Basic Needs Assistance for Families Not Eligible for Previous Covid-19 Benefits ($1 million). After learning through community feedback and data collection that undocumented residents were struggling to access pandemic relief, the city dedicated ARPA funds for cash assistance (one-time, $1,000 payments) to 1,219 households unable to access other federal pandemic benefits. To remove barriers for residents uncomfortable with dealing directly with the government, Boston enlisted the Massachusetts Immigrant Collaborative — a network of immigrant-led nonprofits — to help distribute payments.
- Fare-Free Bus Pilot ($10 million). Mayor Wu’s Green New Deal platform envisions reliable public transit as a fundamental right and a public good, and fare-free transit as a step toward realizing that right. On her first day in office, she requested ARPA funds to expand the fare-free bus pilot begun by Mayor Janey to two additional bus lines also serving Mattapan, Roxbury, and Dorchester: environmental justice communities hard-hit by the pandemic and not served by the city’s subway system. This ARPA investment will support the pilot for two years beginning in March 2022 and evaluate its impact.
The city’s second round of allocations focused on long-term, transformative investments in the city’s future. Safe, affordable housing was the top priority of community members by far, with the pandemic revealing housing insecurity as an underlying driver of negative health and economic impacts, and received the largest portion of funding at $234 million across 21 projects addressing affordable homeownership and rental housing development and preservation (much of it on city-owned land), land acquisition, upgrading of public housing, energy efficient retrofits, community land trusts, permanent supportive housing, and more. The four largest housing investments included:
- Affordable Homeownership Program ($58 million). The “Welcome Home Boston” affordable homeownership program aims to “address historical inequities in wealth and assets impacting communities of color,” principally by developing green, affordable homes on 150 city-owned parcels (with preferences for developers of color) and providing down-payment assistance of up to 10 percent of the purchase price.
- Acquisition Opportunity Program ($48 million). This investment will expand the city’s successful land and housing acquisition program to fund mission-driven housing developers to purchase and maintain 150 units of new affordable housing, particularly in transit corridors where the transportation department is making investments, which are vulnerable to displacement pressure and speculation.
- Healthy Housing and Environmental Justice in Public Housing ($32 million). This project will fund upgrades to 1,040 public housing units, improving air quality, energy efficiency, and livability for extremely low-income and marginalized residents severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
- Transforming Publicly Owned Land into Green, Mixed-Income Communities ($32 million). This project will develop affordable multifamily rental housing on city-owned land as a part of mixed-income communities that connect low-income residents to services and opportunities.
Boston’s project list includes other targeted investments, such as developing an ecosystem of business supports to grow and sustain businesses owned by people of color ($9 million), a green jobs program for un- and underemployed youth ($9 million), and multi-year, capacity-building grants for BIPOC-led cultural organizations ($15 million). The city also is making investments that address underlying structural issues that perpetuate inequities such as supporting the childcare sector, food justice, workforce development, and digital inclusion. More details on individual projects can be found on the city’s ARPA website and dashboard.
Ensuring Equitable Implementation
Boston leaders recognize that committing to targeted investments is not enough — they need to connect “hard-to-reach” communities with these resources through proactive strategies that address key barriers including language and communications challenges, the digital divide, and immigration status.
Following its data-driven approach, the city will be tracking whether its investments are equitably distributed. To facilitate this ongoing evaluation, the city’s Equity and Inclusion Cabinet partnered with its Analytics team to develop a standardized template for demographic data collection, to be used across all programs, that captures race/ethnicity, gender, and neighborhood.
Los Angeles County: Data-Driven Equity Advocacy Steers $1.9 Billion in ARPA Funding
When Los Angeles County was awarded $1.9 billion of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding — the largest county allocation in the country — advocates feared the Board of Supervisors would distribute funds for Covid recovery efforts equally across all county districts. But the Coalition for Equitable ARPA Implementation led by Catalyst California (formerly Advancement Project California), knew first-hand that the pandemic and economic crisis had not impacted Los Angeles neighborhoods evenly. Neighborhoods experiencing concentrated poverty had nearly three times as many Covid-19 cases than communities with higher incomes, while Black residents, immigrants, and other residents of color disproportionately faced increased housing, food, and economic insecurity.
Catalyst California quickly mobilized to ensure ARPA funds reached those most in need, publishing a fact sheet analyzing the impact of Covid by race, class, and place in Los Angeles County using its COVID-19 Vulnerability and Recovery Index and recommending that the county target funding to the highest-need communities. Armed with this powerful fact base, the Coalition for Equitable ARPA Implementation advocated that the Board of Supervisors adopt a set of equity principles and an equitable funding formula based on its index, and publish a dashboard reporting on expenditures and outcomes. The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to adopt these recommendations in July 2021. The ARPA coalition then worked with the county’s Anti-Racism, Diversity, and Inclusion (ARDI) Initiative team to share its data and develop equity tools which are now being used by the county to ensure equitable implementation.
Simultaneously with this successful early equity advocacy, the Immigrants Are LA (IRLA) coalition, made up of more than 100 immigrant-serving organizations, launched an advocacy campaign for greater inclusion of immigrants in the county’s ARPA investments and implementation of ARPA-funded programs. This advocacy resulted in about $30 million in important ARPA investments that serve the immigrant community. The coalition also successfully advocated for a motion to establish a working group in partnership with the ARDI initiative, Office of Immigrant Affairs, and other County departments to ensure immigrant communities can equitably access all county programs.
Centering Equity in the Decision-making Process
Guided by equity principles. Based on the proposals put forth by the ARPA coalition, the county developed a set of Countywide Equity Guiding Principles and ARPA Budget Equity Principles to guide its ARPA decision-making. These principles include overarching goals to reduce racial disparities and target resources to the most disadvantaged people and neighborhoods as well as practices such as authentically engaging communities and ensuring programs and services are culturally and linguistically accessible and available to immigrants and disadvantaged communities. The principles also state that ARPA funds should promote prevention and should “not be used to advance suppression-based efforts via incarceration and policing.”
Summary of Los Angeles County’s Equitable Investment Principles
Source: County of Los Angeles Chief Executive Office, Better than Before: American Rescue Plan Phase 2 Spending Recommendations, September 13, 2022, https://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/bos/supdocs/172568.pdf
Using an equity funding formula based on an index of community need. The county’s equity funding formula was based on Catalyst California’s COVID-19 Vulnerability and Recovery Index, which identifies communities most in need of interventions based on Covid case rates and underlying economic, health, and social vulnerabilities. In applying the statewide index, the county added four new indicators to address key equity concerns locally such as immigrant exclusion. After refining the index, the research team examined the extent to which Covid case and death rates correlated with other vulnerabilities and found a strong relationship, justifying targeting resources to the highest-need neighborhoods. Based on this analysis, the county adopted a funding formula that dedicates 40 percent of ARPA funds to the highest-need census tracts, 35 percent to high-need tracts, 20 percent to moderate-need tracts, 3 percent to low-need tracts, and 3 percent to lowest-need tracts.
Supporting county agencies in developing data-driven equitable public investments. The county created an online Equity Explorer Mapping Tool to help county departments and other community members identify and prioritize highest-need communities in project design and implementation. For county agencies, the system allows them to upload additional program-specific data and overlay it on the Covid recovery index. The Commission for Children and Families, for example, overlaid their child protective services data on the index, helping them to better understand multiple community challenges and target community-based supportive services to neighborhoods with the highest needs.
Ensuring projects include impacted but non-geographically concentrated communities. Recognizing that some impacted groups, such as Native American, Pacific Islander, and immigrants, are not in fact geographically concentrated and could be missed by the equity funding formula, the ARPA coalition advocated that the county craft a data and implementation strategy to reach non-geographically concentrated and highly impacted communities (also referred to as “hard to count” communities). The county’s plan includes four key strategies: 1) taking a mixed-methods approach to supplement the quantitative analysis with qualitative information from community members and service providers; 2) using a “public participation geographic information systems” mapping process to engage community members in adding new information to community maps; 3) partnering with community-based organizations and internal county programs that serve hard-to-count populations; and 4) building targeted outreach and engagement strategies into funded programs.
Maintaining a public dashboard tracking equity metrics and project outcomes. Finally, the ARPA coalition called for the adoption of a publicly available dashboard to track how well ARPA spending aligns with the equity funding formula. The county created an ARP project dashboard that regularly publishes performance data on overall spending and individual projects, including expected goals and outcomes such as the number of residents served and jobs created. The dashboard includes a variety of equity metrics, including spending by community need levels according to the Covid recovery index and the number of members of targeted populations (e.g., people experiencing homelessness, systems-involved people, systems-impacted people) that projects are reaching. The county also publishes a projects map showing funded projects by department and neighborhood, overlaid with the Covid recovery index.
Los Angeles County’s ARP Project Dashboard Shows Targeted and Actual Spending by Community Need Levels
Source: County of Los Angeles ARP Project Dashboard, https://arptracking.ceo.lacounty.gov/public (December 1, 2022)
Los Angeles County’s ARPA Projects Map Shows Program Reach by Neighborhood
Source: County of Los Angeles ARPA Projects Viewer, https://appcenter.gis.lacounty.gov/arpa-projects-map (December 1, 2022)
Investing in Equity
Together, the equity principles, funding formula, and dashboard have helped the county incorporate an equity-based lens in the selection and tracking of ARPA investments. As a result of the coalition's advocacy, the county committed 75 percent of its first-round ARPA funding to neighborhoods hardest hit by the pandemic.
The county’s ARPA investments aim to set a foundation for a “Better than Before” recovery. As of September 13, 2022, the county had allocated its entire ARPA funding to 88 projects spread across three strategic pillars:
- “Equity-focused investments” ($971 million) that address the county’s most acute inequities, including creating homes for people experiencing homelessness, implementing the county’s “Care First, Jails Last” alternatives to incarceration initiative, reducing the digital divide, and disrupting intergenerational poverty.
- “Building a bridge to equitable recovery investments” ($324 million) that provide supportive services to the groups that were most impacted by the pandemic and have the fewest resources, including small businesses, renters, nonprofits, low-wage workers, and food-insecure families.
- “Fiscal stability and social safety net investments” ($654 million) that continue the county’s public health efforts and strengthen its safety net services.
While the first pillar is explicitly focused on equity investments, the county’s data- and principle-driven equity approach carries across all three pillars, and many investments in second pillar are targeted to the communities and groups most impacted by the pandemic and systemic racism and address underlying structural inequities revealed by the pandemic. Los Angeles County did allocate $214 million in ARPA funds to revenue replacement. These funds were directed toward the County Indigent Aid Budget which provides General Relief public assistance payments to low-income residents and is supporting the county’s guaranteed income programs.
The county’s largest area of investment is affordable housing — particularly addressing homelessness in a county where more than 69,000 people go homeless every day and Black people are highly overrepresented in this extremely vulnerable population (representing 30 percent of the homeless population but just 9 percent of the total population). Housing was also the most commonly cited need among the county’s immigrant-serving organizations.
Some of the county’s key investments that demonstrate promise to advance equity include:
- Housing for People Experiencing Homelessness and Extremely Low-Income People ($629 million). More than $600 million in ARPA funds are going toward projects that will expand temporary and permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness, including: participating in the statewide Project Homekey program to create 1,000 units of interim and permanent supportive housing by acquiring new hotels, motels, and apartment complexes; converting interim housing units to permanent housing; constructing new housing for homeless people on publicly owned land, providing rental subsidies, ensuring safe parking spaces for vehicle dwellers, and providing intensive case management services and other supports. In addition, the county allocated $80 million to support affordable housing developers in building at least 500 units of housing for extremely low-income people and $40 million to establish a new land bank to facilitate land acquisition for affordable housing for homeless and extremely low-income residents.
- High Road Training Partnerships ($18 million) and Worker Equity Fund ($2 million). The High Road Training Partnerships workforce development model brings together industries, unions, workers, workforce intermediaries, and training providers to develop strategies that ensure employers have access to the skilled workers they need to be economically competitive and that marginalized workers have equitable opportunities for upward mobility. Through its program, Los Angeles County will connect 335 workers to family-sustaining jobs in five high-priority sectors: construction; health care and bioscience; trade and logistics; technology; and early childhood education. The Worker Equity Fund will provide cash assistance to help participants in the training program pay for the transportation, childcare, or other “wraparound supports” they need to successfully complete the program and secure a job placement
- Guaranteed Basic Income ($42 million) and Guaranteed Income for At-Risk Expectant and Parenting Mothers ($5 million). Through its “Breathe” Guaranteed Basic Income project, the county is providing 1,000 residents with $1,000 payments every month for a three-year period that began in August 2022. One hundred and eighty thousand people applied for the program and participants were randomly selected among applicants who met selection criteria including living in a lower income household and neighborhood. The Center for Guaranteed Income at the University of Pennsylvania is conducting a randomized controlled trial to study the impacts of the program, which was the largest in the country at the time it was announced. The Guaranteed Income for At-Risk Expectant and Parenting Mothers program will issue a monthly stipend of $807 for 18 months to a minimum of 400 pregnant residents, targeting groups that experience dire birth outcomes. Both programs are funded indirectly by ARPA through its revenue replacement allocation.
- Immigrant-serving Programs (~30 million). Despite the county’s efforts to distribute the funds equitably, many of the organizations serving Los Angeles’s immigrant population felt that ARPA funds were not reaching their communities, and the Immigrants Are LA coalition to advocate for greater immigrant inclusion in the second round of funding allocations and implementation of ARPA-funded programs. The coalition’s advocacy led to important immigrant-serving investments including Universal Legal Representation for all immigrants, capacity building for immigrant-focused CBOs, an equity service navigator program, food assistance for undocumented individuals, and programs to achieve digital equity in the county.
Community Advocacy During Second Round of ARPA Allocations Led to Important Investments Serving the County’s Large Immigrant Community
Source: Immigrants are LA Coalition, https://twitter.com/LaImmigrants/status/1574499752208580608?s=20&t=waBPLztdoBy3jRxkGwdzDQ (September 26, 2022)
- Trauma Prevention Partnerships ($25 million). Through this program, the county will provide grants to community-based organizations to conduct violence prevention, intervention, and healing strategies, aiming to decrease rates of violence by at least 15 percent in 10 of the 12 communities with the highest rates of violence in the county.
Ensuring Equitable Implementation
With its spending decisions made, the county has turned toward the challenge of ensuring residents know about available resources and local organizations and small businesses know about contracting opportunities.
As a part of the Immigrants Are LA advocacy, in July 2022 the Board of Supervisors directed county departments to engage immigrant-serving organizations in ensuring their communities can access funding opportunities and demanded that the Office of Immigrant Affairs and ARDI make recommendations on data gathering, standard metrics, reporting, policy, and program changes to ensure immigrant inclusion in ARPA projects.
To support equitable contracting, the county held a virtual “Proposer’s Conference” in October 2022 sharing information about the streamlined solicitation process and how to receive notices of future contracting opportunities with all county departments in multiple languages including Armenian, Mandarin (Chinese), Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Thai. Of 174 attendees, 29 percent had never contracted with the county.
The county is also collaborating with philanthropy on an Equitable Recovery Initiative to support community-based organizations in applying for ARPA funding, with a specific focus on Black, Indigenous, and people of color-led organizations with budgets under $2.5 million.
St. Louis: Mayor’s Office Fights to Implement a People’s Agenda for ARPA Funds
Ensuring that the City of St. Louis’s nearly $500 million in ARPA State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds are used to address racialized disinvestment and “chart a new course towards justice, equity and democracy” was a central promise of now-Mayor Tishaura Jones’s election campaign. Her “People’s Agenda” for federal stimulus funds emphasized providing direct relief to those most impacted by the pandemic, making transformative and forward-looking investments, and listening to residents’ ideas on both what to fund and how to implement programs effectively.
In April 2021, Jones won her election bid to become the first Black woman mayor in city history. Since then, she has been working to manifest the People’s Plan. As Nahuel Fefer, Jones's director of policy and development, explained, the city’s ARPA package has presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild St. Louis for the better. The road has not been easy: the mayor’s office clashed with the Board of Aldermen over spending priorities in 2021, and in 2022 three aldermen were sentenced to federal prison on corruption charges. But Jones’s administration has fought to center equity at every step, with important wins including delivering $500 cash payments to 9,300 economically impacted residents in winter 2021, and based on that program’s success, funding an 18-month guaranteed income pilot that will serve 440 low-income families with children.
Centering Equity in the Decision-making Process
Engaging the community in selecting initial spending priorities. Between April and July 2021, the mayor’s office convened a Stimulus Advisory Board comprising 26 community leaders from social service agencies, racial equity organizations, disability and immigrant advocacy groups, and other community institutions to identify spending priorities. The Stimulus Advisory Board prioritized providing direct relief to residents. The city also conducted a community needs survey, gathering 2,500 responses. Input from these processes helped the city identify six spending priorities: 1) meeting critical health needs; 2) housing and utility assistance; 3) support for unhoused neighbors; 4) economic relief; 5) youth programming and childcare; and 6) expanding internet access.
The city has continued to garner community input to inform spending decisions. In April 2022, the city conducted another survey in seven languages, garnering 5,000 responses, followed by roundtables and townhalls. This survey revealed a shift in public sentiment: residents were now prioritizing longer term investments in housing, community infrastructure/neighborhoods, and children and youth.
Using the city’s equity indicators to evaluate direct relief proposals. The Stimulus Advisory Committee’s Direct Relief Subcommittee relied on the St. Louis City Equity Indicators, a set of metrics developed to implement the recommendations of the Ferguson Commission, to evaluate proposals. The subcommittee ranked nine priorities based on how they would impact Black/white racial disparities, finding that rent/mortgage/utilities assistance, direct cash support, and services for the unhoused addressed the greatest inequities.
Fighting for community priorities. For the initial appropriation, the mayor’s office proposed a direct cash assistance program based on the Stimulus Advisory Board’s recommendations, but the Board of Aldermen wanted to fund programs that would allow the city to quickly get the money out the door, such as funding for the police department and small business grants. After a 10-hour debate, the program was approved. “We needed to make sure this funding supported equitable, long-term change in our city. For this to be sustainable…we need to invest deeply in people and equitable processes,” explained Fefer.
Developing an Economic Justice Index to target economic and workforce development efforts. In September 2022, the city and the St. Louis Development Corporation released a new Economic Justice Action Plan that will guide the city’s economic and workforce development activities and ARPA investments. Recognizing the need to reverse harms inflicted on the city’s Black and Brown neighborhoods by past development decisions, as well as the need to target limited resources effectively to realize tangible benefits, the new action plan recommends targeting economic and workforce efforts to communities that have high needs as well as high opportunities based on an Economic Justice Index.
Investing in Equity
The city has appropriated about $436 million of its $498 million ARPA allocation to 158 programs predominantly focused on addressing the negative impacts of the pandemic. About a quarter of the funds ($94.7 million) were dedicated to revenue replacement/general government services.
Important equity-focused investments include:
- Targeted Cash Assistance ($5 million). During the first round of appropriations, Mayor Jones and community advocates successfully fought for a $5 million direct cash relief program, which provided $500 direct cash payments to 9,300 city residents negatively impacted by the pandemic. The city partnered with nonprofit organizations, libraries, community colleges, and other community-based institutions to reach residents with the highest needs, including undocumented immigrants, seniors, people with disabilities, and people without internet access. Analyses show that the funds were equitably distributed and particularly successful in reaching low-income Black women living in disinvested, predominantly-Black communities. Surveys showed that the funds helped people meet their basic needs — including groceries, utility and phone bills, rent, transportation, and childcare — and that they helped prevent further financial hardship and reduce stress. As one participant noted, “Instead of worrying about having to get money for this bill before I get cut off, I was able to concentrate on finding a job and I did and I got one.”
- Guaranteed Income Pilot ($5 million). Building on the success of the cash assistance program and community advocacy led by Missouri Jobs with Justice, on December 15, 2022, the Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance providing $5 million in ARPA funds for a guaranteed income pilot program. Targeted to low-income families with children in the city’s public schools, the pilot will provide $500 monthly payments to 440 households over an 18-month period. Board of Aldermen president Megan Green described the pilot as a step toward a permanent program in the press release: “This bill is a step toward a universal program that would help all St. Louisans achieve a dignified, prosperous life.”
- Affordable Housing and Homelessness. Many of the city’s largest projects are focused on alleviating the housing crisis facing its lowest-income residents: $20 million went into a Citywide Housing Development Fund focused on increasing housing options for homeless people and preventing evictions, $12.5 million was dedicated toward housing development preservation for extremely low-income households, and $13.6 million went toward emergency rental assistance. Many smaller-scale housing investments went toward homelessness services and innovative strategies like developing tiny homes for unhoused people.
- Child Support Arrears ($1 million). One particularly innovative program dedicated $1 million in funding to help parents with child support arrears pay down a portion of their debt, which can be a barrier to employment.
- Free Public Transit ($250,000). The Gateway Go Youth Transit Program is providing over 3,000 youth and young adults between ages 13 and 25 with access to public transit free of charge.
- 911 Diversion Program ($6 million). The city dedicated ARPA funds to expanding its “Cops and Clinician” program that responds to 911 calls by sending social workers along with police officers to provide mental health services and reduce arrests. Over the program’s first eight months, the teams responded to nearly 5,000 cases and successfully diverted 95 percent of individuals from arrest, saving the city an estimated $2.2 million.
Ensuring Equitable Implementation
The city’s single largest investment ($37 million) went toward a small business development and stabilization grant program for businesses in the predominantly Black and historically neglected north side located near a major redevelopment project: the construction of a 712,000-square-foot complex that will house the federal Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s western headquarters (called Next NGA West). That grant will only deliver equitable outcomes if the broader redevelopment project is undertaken with an equitable-development-without-displacement approach with effective strategies to ensure existing low-income residents and community-serving small businesses in the area can continue to live in the community and benefit from new public and private investment.
Savannah: Racial Equity Initiative Informs $55.8 Million ARPA Allocation
By the time the City of Savannah was granted $55.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, Mayor Van R. Johnson II had already put in place numerous task forces to help the city advance equity through its policymaking and activities. In July 2020, Johnson formed the Racial Equity and Leadership (REAL) Task Force, appointing 45 leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to serve on the task force and bringing on former mayor Otis Johnson to lead the effort. That same month, the mayor convened the Proud Savannah task force focused on ensuring the city is welcoming and safe for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer residents as well as the Housing Savannah Task Force focused on developing strategies to address the city’s affordable housing needs.
The community engagement, research, and solutions produced by these task forces put the City of Savannah in a good position to invest its ARPA funds in strategies already identified through community processes.
Centering Equity in the Decision-making Process
Informed by the REAL initiative recommendations. The REAL Task Force produced an in-depth report, Seeing Savannah Through a Racial Equity Lens, examining the city of Savannah’s racial equity challenges and presenting a set of recommendations across the policy areas of criminal justice, economic empowerment and wealth development, education, environmental justice, health, and housing. The report was presented to the city council on October 28, 2021, and the council adopted the report’s recommendations in November 2021.
Defining equity as a citywide priority. The city’s overall ARPA funding decisions were incorporated into the city’s overall 2022 budget proposal. This budget was informed by the REAL task force recommendations, and it was the city’s first budget that was driven by equity as a guiding principle. The city defined equity as follows:
“The City of Savannah views equity as a guiding principle that drives us. We strive to create and maintain an environment that influences fair and equitable service delivery and distribution of resources to shape the provision of exceptional public services that benefit all Savannah residents, businesses, workers, and guests.”
Investing in Equity
The City of Savannah is using its ARPA funds to support several equity-boosting efforts, including investing in the strategy recommended by its Housing Savannah Task Force, investing in youth programs as a violence prevention strategy, and funding key staff positions to carry forward its housing and equity efforts.
- Housing Savannah Action Plan. Savannah’s single largest ARPA project is a record $7 million investment in the Savannah Affordable Housing Fund which will support the Housing Savannah Action Plan’s strategies to create and preserve affordable housing for 15,000 low-income households by 2032. In addition, ARPA funds will support hiring a policy advisor on homelessness who would be tasked with establishing an interagency council to coordinate funding and programs.
- Hiring an Equity and Innovation Officer. The city dedicated ARPA resources to creating a new staff position focused on equity efforts — critical institutional infrastructure to integrate an equity approach throughout government.
- Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement Community Grants. While Savannah used ARPA funds to support its traditional policing efforts, the city also is using ARPA funds to strengthen its community-based, public health approach to reducing violence. The 2022 budget created a new Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement that coordinates with community organizations on projects that support youth. One million in ARPA funds are going toward a community grant program that will fund nonprofit organizations that engage youth in activities that prevent and interrupt violence.
In addition, Savannah’s ARPA investments support many programs targeting underserved communities, such as the RENForce transitional job-training program for people impacted by the criminal justice system as well as farmers’ markets and other programs providing fresh foods to low-income communities with little access to fresh food markets.