South Bend city officials had their first public conversation Wednesday night about how to spend the nearly $59 million the city will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Federal guidelines say the money can be used to “support urgent COVID-19 response efforts, support immediate economic stabilization for households and businesses, replace lost government revenue and address systemic public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the unequal impact of the pandemic.”
“We have not seen this level of investment since World War II,” Councilman Troy Warner said. “Except at that time, we were building ships and airplanes and brakes here in South Bend… not investing in our community, in our society, in our neighborhoods, in our schools.”
According to city controller Dan Parker, the city will receive about $29.4 million this year, and another $29.4 million in 2022. All $59.8 million must be allocated by the end of 2024.
Under the plan Mayor James Mueller presented to the common council, 20 percent of the money would go to “response and relief” efforts. About $5 million would go to resident relief and utility assistance, $1 million to small business relief and $6 million to the city’s COVID-19 response and safety upgrades.
Mueller said that spending would likely come in the form of a special appropriations package in August, or as part of the next quarterly appropriation in September.
“We’ll want to get those urgent things moving forward as quickly as possible,” he said.
The other 80 percent would go to “equitable recovery” initiatives, which Mueller said was the city’s chance to “be creative and see how we can transform our community.”
He proposed incorporating $47 million in spending on affordable housing, neighborhood investments, public safety upgrades and expanded pre-K and youth programs into the city’s annual budget process.
Mueller said the specifics of those initiatives were open to discussion among city officials. Council members agreed that in order for the process to be as effective as possible, the city will also need to communicate with the county, the school corporation and other recipients of American Rescue Plan funding.
“How do we sustain the work that needs to be done to move our city forward, but also look at education systems and social services?” Council President Karen White said. “I just see this as an exciting time for us to really do things differently if we can get everyone at the table.”
The council also agreed that the city has to spend its money “intentionally.” Councilman Canneth Lee said the city’s most vulnerable residents, in particular, should benefit from an equitable recovery.
“We can’t get it wrong. We have to make the biggest impact we can possibly make,” Lee said. “Our residents and city members who are in the most vulnerable neighborhoods have to see results. We have to make that happen.”
The city will hold community meetings throughout August to get residents’ feedback on both the American Rescue Plan spending and the city’s upcoming budget:
- Thursday, Aug. 5, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center (1522 Linden Ave.)
- Thursday, Aug. 12, at the Pinhook Park Community Center (2801 Riverside Dr.)
- Thursday, Aug. 17, at the Howard Park Event Center (219 S. St. Louis Blvd.)
All meetings will start at 6 p.m. The city is also working on an online survey to collect community feedback. The city’s formal 2022 budget presentations will begin Wednesday, Aug. 11.
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