As we begin to emerge from the pandemic the vast inequities persisting in communities have been made abundantly clear. COVID-19 has reaffirmed what many of us already know – that low-income, communities of color are disproportionally affected by disease and economic downturns. These inequities have become so apparent that the federal government instituted a sweeping $1.9 trillion package, the American Rescue Plan, which aims to not only build back from the pandemic but directly addresses the need to “lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery1.” Further, one of the ARP’s main objectives is to “address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the unequal impact of the pandemic.” The Invest Health city teams and other multi-sector initiatives may already be uniquely positioned to directly align with these pillars and, as such, need to be at the table when local cities and communities are deciding how to best reinvest this money back into the community.

Breakdown of the American Rescue Plan (ARP)

The ARP contains broad guidelines on how the funds can be utilized. This was done on purpose to ensure local and state entities have the flexibility to use the funds as they see best fit for their communities. Briefly, the funds can be used for:

  • Supporting public health expenditures
  • Address the negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic
  • Replace lost public sector revenue
  • Premium pay for essential workers
  • Investment in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure

Learn more about the uses for the ARP via the U.S. Department of Treasury or the Municipal Research and Service Center.

The funds will be distributed to a variety of entities including states, counties, cities, tribal governments, territories, and non-entitlement units of local government also known as NEUs (which are local governments typically serving a population under 50,000). Recognizing that different cities and counties may have varying opportunities to influence the spend of the funds, there are various methods in which organizations can directly involve themselves in the planning process as there will be substantial funding amounts heading to each of these respective entities. If you would like to know how much funding your community is receiving, click here.

Strategies to Ensure You are at the Planning Table

An infusion of resources such as the ones being administered in the ARP has never been seen before and perhaps may never be seen again. It is critical that organizations use this opportunity to the fullest possible extent. However, doing so can feel overwhelming and complicated. The first key steps to begin this process include:

  • Get your foot in the door now. ARP funds will be continuing to arrive throughout 2021 and into 2022 via two separate distribution cycles. It is essential to get a seat at that table early and make your voice heard that your organization is a key player in the community, ready to assist the municipality in developing strategies for deploying ARP funds. To this end, leverage your existing relationships and ensure your organization is recognized as one of the go-to experts. For example, contact City Managers, Planners, or any official willing to listen and with whom you have an existing relationship. The ARP and state departments explicitly emphasize that a best practice to ensure the funds are used effectively is to ensure nonprofits and community organizations are at the planning table. More often than not the municipalities will be looking for help, but may not know who to engage. You all are the experts on how to equitably improve the community, so you need to be a voice in the APR strategy conversation with your city leaders.
  • Be prepared. While it is important to ensure you are at the table, it is just as important to come prepared with a comprehensive plan already developed. These plans should include a timeline, proposed budget, and examples of existing projects. Make sure the plan aligns with the deadlines associated with the ARP, as funds must be obligated through December 31, 2024, and the deadline for funds to be spent is December 31, 2026. Lastly, it is important to confirm the programs that you are proposing are not already receiving federal aid from the ARP. You can view an outline of the specific programs receiving funding from this document prepared by the U.S. Senate.
  • Ensure your plan is feasible. While it may be tempting to propose a plan that will seemingly transform long-standing inequities overnight, it is crucial to recommend a plan that is feasible with current organizational capacity. None of the ARP funds can be used for specific organizational purposes, all the resources must be employed to the community. By completing a project within your proposed deadlines, it will help solidify a relationship with the governmental entity and position your organization to be good stewards of government funds. This is the time to – ask big – as you can’t get what you don’t ask for.
  • Center projects around community needs. Despite local government officials desire to reflect the needs of the community, getting residents’ voices to the table is a perpetual challenge. Leverage the ongoing community engagement strategies you’ve employed to make sure residents are a part of the decision-making process. Their voices went into your project plans, so use that to your advantage, such as through direct constituent testimony, backed by data to inform priorities. And of course, review the ARP goals and ensure projects are in alignment with as many as possible.

By successfully investing in neighborhoods in a manner that advances racial and health equity as a nation we can take meaningful steps in the right direction. The ARP provides a unique opportunity to see many of the visions and ideas we have had for decades now have the ability to be realized. Although one infusion of capital will not solve generations of discriminatory practices, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Invest Health city teams and other multi-sector collaborations, can come together with local governments to steer this unprecedented amount of capital towards achieving meaningful, sustainable, and equitable change.

Citations & Resources
High-Level Overview of the ARP
Small Business Equity Tool Kit
How to Maximize Funds from the ARP

About the Author

Tristan Gibson is the Graduate Program Intern at Reinvestment Fund working with Invest Health and Building Healthier, More Equitable Communities (BHEC). He is also currently attending Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy to obtain his Master of Public Policy. His concentration is an intersection of health policy and community development. Tristan is a former participant in the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey’s “Community Scholar” program. In this role, Tristan engaged in a variety of projects geared to support affordable housing in New Jersey such as ensuring New Jersey municipalities were adhering to their Fair Share Housing compliance. Prior to attending Rutgers University, Tristan spent two years at the New Jersey Primary Care Association (NJPCA). He assisted the policy team advocate and develop policy with state and federal elected officials to ensure Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) received the appropriate funding and resources required to continue serving New Jersey’s underserved communities. While at NJPCA, Tristan also developed various workforce development programs and initiatives to recruit and retain medical professionals at FQHCs. Through the workforce program, he led the development of the nation’s first undergraduate FQHC curriculum at Rutgers University’s Division of Life Sciences. Upon completion of the Master of Public Policy program, Tristan seeks to use his knowledge to create sustainable and meaningful solutions that ensure all populations have access to affordable health care and the ability to live in affordable, vibrant neighborhoods. Tristan holds a Bachelor of Science in Public Health and Communication Studies from The College of New Jersey.