With the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP), states and localities will once again receive billions of dollars to reduce the financial losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But this time local government spending of those funds will look different from before.
The ARP works to restart the economy through a well-established plan that encourages vaccine development and pumps massive amounts of federal funding into the economy. In addition to stimulus checks for most people, state and local governments will receive an extra $350 billion, with $65.1 billion in direct federal aid for counties and an additional $1.5 billion for public land counties.
A report by CivicPulse found that local governments plan to spend this stimulus payment differently than previous relief packages. While officials still want to ensure health safety measures and PPE demands are met, there will be a shift to make sure that communities will succeed through the pandemic’s duration and beyond.
Governments across the country scrambled to make sure workers had all the necessary equipment and access to do their jobs remotely, reporting that 50 percent of their existing COVID-19 relief funds went towards IT infrastructure. However, a year later, workers have settled into their new workspaces, so local governments plan to reduce those funds by 17 percent.
Working and learning remotely depends on reliable Internet access, something that millions of Americans lack. Local governments plan to increase future spending on broadband expansion by 11 percent; however, even with the boost in funds, it may not be enough to close the broadband gap. Despite the struggles of distance learning for both teachers and students, local government officials plan to cut relief spending on K-12 education by 2 percent, dropping it to just 8 percent for future funds.
The biggest change in fiscal planning concerns vaccine distribution. Previously, government officials focused on testing for COVID-19 while vaccines were still in the development and approval stage. Now, with three different vaccines approved by the FDA, there will be a large increase in the amount allotted for delivery. Already, 31 percent of local governments indicated they would spend some of their federal relief funds for vaccine distribution, compared to just 9 percent previously.
During these unprecedented times, government officials have been turning to each other for support and it is no different when it comes to spending relief funds. The survey found that 71 percent of local governments and 65 percent of state governments turn to their peers for guidance, even when it comes to financial allocations. Only 13 percent of respondents said they would turn to national associations and organizations for advice.