ARPA Funds Have Served as Critical Lifeline for American Cities

Washington, DC – Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the enactment of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). A critical component of this legislation was direct fiscal relief to state and local governments, which were devastated by unprecedented need and budget shortfalls as a result of the pandemic. Marking the anniversary, mayors from across the country – Republicans and Democrats alike – are reflecting on how important that lifeline was for their cities and sharing how these funds are being put to use to strengthen communities and help drive America’s economic recovery.

Today, the U.S. Conference of Mayors released a series of videos from more than two dozen mayors who recently took the time to talk about the ARPA’s impact on their cities. The following are highlights of the testimonials from those mayors:

Mayor Justin Bibb of Cleveland, OH:

“We received over $511 million dollars from President Biden through the American Rescue Plan — the 8th largest allocation in the United States — and I’m using that capital to do a couple things: number one, we’ve already authorized over $20 million to eradicate the digital divide, we’ve raised already over $100 million to eradicate the lead paint crisis that has plagued many of our children for far too long, and in the months ahead, I intend to launch an Office of Economic Recovery working with public and private partners from all across our community to make sure we can leverage this capital to truly create the right recovery that can be an inclusive economic comeback for our city in the future.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, TX: 

“We stood to lose or lay off nearly 2,000 employees if it were not for CARES funding and then the ARPA funding. It was just that bad. It would have forced us to lay off municipal workers: I’m talking about the people who pick up the trash, I’m talking about the people who attend to our wastewater infrastructure system, I’m talking about people in our parks department, library department, I’m talking about firefighters, and I’m talking about police officers… It was the ARPA funding that was primarily used to plug that $200 million shortfall… Do you want to lose police officers? The answer is ‘no.’ Do you want to lose firefighters? The answer is ‘no’.’ Do you need your solid waste workers, the people who pick up the trash every week? The answer is ‘absolutely’… You take away the people, you take away the services.”

Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans, LA:

“In 2020, our budget was impacted in terms of a revenue loss of $50 million dollars — we had to make cuts significantly. In 2021, a $100-million-dollar-hole in our budget. Receiving the first tranche of ARPA dollars allowed us to make mid-year adjustments so that we could continue to employ police officers, EMS, firefighters, homeland security, civil servants, city employees across the board. It allowed us to fill that gap, and we are waiting on the second tranche so that we can do even more.”

Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird of Lincoln, NE: 

We used our American Rescue Plan funds, first and foremost, to help stabilize small businesses in Lincoln. We’ve allocated over $7 million in grants to small businesses that are eligible because they were impacted by the pandemic. We’ve used that money to provide up to six months of rent and mortgage payments. … And through our exit interviews with recipients of these funds, we’ve heard that this is what helped keep them in business. This is what’s helping keep people employed who work in their companies. We’ve helped over 250 small businesses and micro businesses with those dollars from the American Rescue Plan. It really has been a lifeline for them.”

Mayor Andrew Ginther of Columbus, OH: 

“One of the things we’re most proud of is the huge investments we’ve made in childcare, because childcare around America has been on life support because of the impacts of the pandemic. So being able to invest in giving scholarships to families so that they can continue to afford childcare and so we can make sure that folks are getting back to work. As you know, about 1.8 million women left the workforce as a result of the pandemic, and the only way we can continue to grow our economy is by getting people back to work — and a key part of that is having safe, affordable childcare that’s accessible for families in Central Ohio.”

Mayor Paige Cognetti of Scranton, PA: 

“We are so grateful for the American Rescue Plan and the ability for us as a city to have known that we could move forward. In March of 2020, April 2020, we didn’t know what was going to happen to our tax revenue. We thought we might be in a place where we would be millions and millions of dollars in the hole. We furloughed 44 employees right off the bat. I felt I couldn’t close City Hall and continue to pay people not knowing what we were facing. With the help of the American Rescue Plan, we have been able to confidently go into our 2021-2022 budgets, know that we can buy those police cars, know that we can continue to operate our public works, know that our fire stations can stay open. We brought everyone back. We are fully employed.”

Mayor Michael Hancock of Denver, CO: 

“First of all, we had to restore critical services in the city of Denver that were disrupted by the shutdown and disrupted by our sales tax collection, which makes up 60% of our revenue. We lost over $221 million dollars literally in a matter of days. Just shut off. From hospitality, from sales, tourism. Done. It’s gone. You’re not reaping that. So we had to readjust. So, ARPA helped us to begin to restore those critical services and bring back our employees — everyone was furloughed for the most part, except for our uniforms…Then, we began to restore and invest in our businesses, in our community-based organizations so that they could also be responsive to our community. And we really heavily invested in housing and shelter, particularly for our most vulnerable — our homeless.”

Mayor David Holt of Oklahoma City, OK: 

“In Oklahoma City, we’re getting about $120 million dollars through ARPA. We’ve already utilized it for some direct pandemic response. We worked with our City-County Health Department to build a drive-through vaccination and testing facility. . . We’ve also used it to continue our sewage surveillance program. But, we’re also and probably predominantly going to use it for economic recovery…We still have communities that haven’t fully recovered — certainly in minority communities and small business communities — so we’re focused there with our ARPA dollars.”

Mayor Tim Keller of Albuquerque, NM:

“…[ARPA] was a game-changer…especially [for] Albuquerque, because we could use it right away, and we could use it in the way we thought was best for our city …It remains to me the most helpful federal incentive or action that I’ve ever dealt with as a mayor…We basically said that we’re going to spend several tens of millions of dollars directly handing out checks to businesses that would otherwise fail… It was only for [businesses] who otherwise would close forever. So, by that measure, if you assume at least half of the [businesses that participated] would have closed, we literally saved 1,000 businesses that wouldn’t be around today.”

Mayor Jim Hovland of Edina, MN: 

“We thought we had great broadband coverage in our community, but we found out there were blind spots, bad spots for kids, so we dedicated $500,000 of that 2.4 million… [so] that they’d have the kind of access to the  internet we wanted them to have. And I think we were the first city in the state to do something like that…In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, we set up, in conjunction with the neighboring communities, the use of a social worker to help on some police calls where officers were being asked to cover mental health challenges… We committed about $400,000 of that [ARPA] money to enhancing that operation within our police department and also assisting our school district and our community with some outside mental health services, either for kids or families that need some assistance.”

Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose, CA: 

“The American Rescue funds helped to fill holes that would have otherwise forced a layoff of many dedicated public servants and would have left our residents much, much more vulnerable. In addition to filling holes, it also helped us to be creative, to address what we knew would be looming challenges with this pandemic. For example, we anticipated that with so many families struggling to get work, to be able to support themselves, and because of all the mental health issues that were arising throughout the pandemic, we sensed there would be probably greater crime, particularly for young adults. The dislocation of young people through this pandemic has certainly been described in so many ways. And so it was important for me to see how we could get in front of that, how could we reach out to young adults who are struggling and ensure that we were there to support them, not to arrest them, to be there to react to the impacts — so we launched a Resilience Corps. We took $20 million dollars of the federal funds and focused on young adults living in low-income neighborhoods, because we knew that those are residents who were most dislocated economically because they work in service industries, working in hotels or restaurants, or whatever it might be, and they were the ones who were facing the layoffs and struggling the most to support their families. And so we tried to create a force of young people who would sustain and support the city against everything that we were dealing with through the pandemic and obviously other long-term challenges as well, like climate change, for example. Today, we’re employing nearly 500 young adults in a whole host of ways. Some are supporting vaccination centers. Some are helping children with learning loss…We’re helping to clear defensible space in some of our suburban neighborhoods against wildfires.”

Mayor Quinton Lucas of Kansas City, MO: 

“…There is an organization in Kansas City called the KC Care Clinic. Their primary work…is working with people who are living with HIV and AIDS. And, early in the pandemic, of course, immunocompromised folks are an area of concern. Our ability to support KC Care through our federal funds has been a lifesaver for a lot of these folks, who, as I noted, weren’t going to the doctor for a while, didn’t know what part of society they could engage with, making sure they had access and consistent treatment throughout this crisis.”

Mayor Lily Mei of Fremont, CA: 

“Having that ability to leverage and utilize ARPA to balance our budget allowed us to then focus some of those funds, along with the combination of county and state, to help with rental assistance. As of January to date, we have used almost $11 million of our $16 million to help provide rental assistance for over 770 families.”

Mayor Christina Muryn of Findlay, OH: 

“With the American Rescue Plan dollars, we are being able to provide some grant opportunities to support our nonprofits in a variety of ways, certainly focusing on basic needs: food, housing, education, getting folks back to work, and childcare. But also some of those other nonprofit organizations that haven’t been able to receive federal or state support that  are still critically important to the success of our community and the vibrancy. So things like Cancer Patient Services, an organization that helps individuals who are struggling with medical bills while going through cancer treatment, or Hope House, which helps individuals that have been displaced or are seeking refuge from domestic violence.”

Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, KY:

“First and foremost, the ARPA funds were used to make sure that we could mitigate the impact of the pandemic as much as we possibly could. It literally was a lifesaver for our community. And then when you go beyond that to the type of economic uplift that ARPA has provided, and will provide even further, it allowed us to address challenges in our community that we’ve always dreamed of addressing, but we never had the resources to address. So it gives us the double impact of economic lift, and then also taking on big challenges for generational change in Louisville.”

Mayor Bryan Barnett of Rochester Hills, MI:

“We have long argued, lobbied, leveraged for a seat at the table. And it might be for a grant program or CDBG, but never have we been as successful as we were over the past couple of years, specifically with the $65 billion. That win for cities, and having it come directly to mayors, was really the life preserver — it was the rope that we needed to be able to show hope and certainty that we were going to be able to get through this, that we were going to be able to continue to fund the resources that we knew were critical to sort of come out of this and begin to turn the corner. And I’m incredibly proud of the bipartisan way mayors came together from every side of the political spectrum, every corner of the geographic country, with a sole purpose, and that was to get resources directly into our care and be able to execute and deploy those as quickly as possible.”

Mayor Scott Singer of Boca Raton, FL: 

“[ARPA funds were] a game-changer for so many communities like ours. Our city is poised to receive about $12 million, which we’re going to redeploy in improved infrastructure, community policing, and other public safety efforts and creative initiatives for businesses.”

Mayor Joy Cooper of Hallandale Beach, FL: 

“Once we did all those calculations, we saw that within two-to-three years, the rate we were going, facing COVID closing businesses, all the other stresses and having to keep employees well and keep them paid, we were facing bankruptcy. So without the support of the federal government — which all our residents are very grateful for — as a smaller city, we really were facing really dire times, so we have really applied every, every penny of ARPA to make sure that we can balance our budget.”

Mayor Jerry Dyer of Fresno, CA:

“The American Rescue funds were provided by President Biden and our Congress at the federal level, and again those dollars being sent directly to cities is really what’s making these dollars go a long way. The more direct allocations we can get to our cities, the better we’re going to be — and we can put those monies into use quickly, especially when they go directly to the cities.”

Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. of Augusta, GA: 

“We know best how to distribute those dollars, how to meet the needs of people on the ground. And that was the key element that made these dollars so instrumental in coming to us at the time that they did. In Augusta, we used them for a number of things. Some challenges that we had, particularly in terms of law enforcement, being able to keep people – from a public safety and law enforcement perspective – on the ground.”

Mayor Steve Adler of Austin, TX: 

“Cities like Austin that…had a challenge that was either exacerbated or highlighted by the pandemic and the crises associated with that time period had the ability to really do something transformational — to take a fundamental, if not the greatest, challenge, and take it off the table.”

Mayor Frank Cownie of Des Moines, IA:

“A lot of these people started working virtually. Well, what does that do to all those businesses you know whether they’re restaurants or retail or whatever that people are starting to not frequent? And so they started laying people off, and in some cases shutting down because their workers became ill with the pandemic and COVID. And so there were lots of people that needed a lot of help. And you know they were having to try to keep a roof over their heads, make rental payments, make house payments, put food on the table.”

Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz of Toledo, OH: 

“The city of Toledo is in the process of receiving $180 million, which extended a lifeline that has enabled us to get through a time in our city that otherwise we wouldn’t, I worry we would not have gotten through. We’re using those resources, to do a lot of things, and things that I suspect the public supports. We built our plan around public input. Yes, there are guidelines from the Treasury Department of course that have to be followed, but within those parameters, we felt it was important to get feedback from citizens, so we had a series of neighborhood meetings, public opinion survey that we sent out and thousands to Toledoans made their voices heard.”

Mayor Tito Brown of Youngstown, OH: 

“Compromise is not a dirty word. It happened, I believe, because mayors across the nation all agreed that every industry that we were, that was out there that was affected by the pandemic, hey were getting a sense of ‘OK, we can help you’ from the federal side of the world. The mayors and the cities were not, and it was just a collective conversation that happened with every mayor across the nation that says, ‘cities are the ones who are affected most, they’re going to need help.’ It was a bipartisan opportunity. It wasn’t Democrat, it wasn’t Republican; it was about the people…”

Mayor Pauline Cutter of San Leandro, CA:

“I work at a food pantry every Tuesday and of course the food pantries were really well in demand. And little by little you have people donating and so forth, but with ARPA funds, we were able to give $15,000 to each of our ten food pantries. And what that allowed the food pantries to do was buy a freezer and refrigerator, in addition to what they had so then they were able to store more food, give more food and make it safer to give that food out. And without those funds, they never would’ve gotten that big chunk of money that they needed to make them more efficient, and that was something that I was really proud of and I know it helped a lot of people in our city.”

Mayor Elizabeth Kautz of Burnsville, MN: 

Now for ARPA funds, because we only got about $8 million in my city, and so what we used the first $6 million is for cost recovery for lost revenue… I have a power plant [and natural gas plant] in my city, so we have some very critical assets. We need to make sure that we have those assets still running, because all of us, all of us, need electric power.”

Mayor Steve Williams of Huntington, WV

“We put together an extremely aggressive [economic revitalization] plan… I just knew what we had to do in order to transform our community. It had to be something that was bigger than what any small town would imagine doing. But the only way you’re going to do that within a shortened time frame is it has to be big. Go big or don’t go… The big worry that I had was ‘how in God’s name am I going to pay for this.”… And then the Rescue Plan came.”