Data-Driven Recovery Efforts: Putting ARPA Recovery Funds to Work

Jun. 11, 2021

Samantha Breslin & Becky Ofrane

American cities are shifting into COVID recovery and rebuilding, after a year of seemingly endless challenges. A large part of these efforts will be driven by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a $1.9 trillion federal funding package that will deliver economic relief for American workers, families, and industries, especially those most impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

This blog will give a brief overview of the ARPA guidelines, and show how cities can use the City Health Dashboard to help prioritize resource allocation. We also recommend visiting National League of Cities’ COVID Response & Relief resource page for additional information on how cities can best utilize this stimulus funding to support local communities.

What You Need to Know about the American Rescue Plan Act

Funding has already started flowing into local governments, who now must prioritize how to allocate and distribute it to local projects. There are five eligible categories of the ARPA, and they are purposefully broad in order to provide flexibility for local leaders to determine their most pressing needs -- and solutions to those needs:

The Treasury Department also recognizes that the pandemic’s impact has been unequal, with low income workers and communities of color bearing the burden of the most severe health and economic outcomes. Because of this, the final interim rule provides for eligible funding to be directed towards addressing inequities, including reducing health disparities, building stronger communities through investments in housing, and closing educational gaps. These efforts must serve communities, populations, and geographic areas most disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

How Data can Support ARPA Spending

Every city has different needs and priorities, and evidence-based decision making – combining local data with community needs – is an effective method of matching policies and programs with the needs within a community. Here are a few ways the Dashboard can support decision-making around COVID recovery and resource allocation.

Improving outreach to specific communities and populations

The Dashboard’s demographic and metric maps can be used together to explore the demographic makeup of neighborhoods and identify the challenges those communities may be facing. For example, community health workers at the Jersey City health department working to increase COVID vaccination rates in Latino men can access their city’s Demographics by Census Tract (selecting Hispanic) to better understand which neighborhoods have larger Hispanic populations. Working with Latino-led community groups in these neighborhoods, the health department could provide more targeted outreach, vaccination resources in Spanish, and ongoing testing support, instead of a broad city-wide effort.

Connecting more households to broadband internet

An internet connection has become a core part of daily life: we use it for virtual learning or remote work, to pay bills, connect to family and friends, find doctors, and more. The pandemic has shown us how important high-speed internet access is for families—and the challenges that come when communities lack access. Mobile phone access is widespread, but for more complex tasks, such as writing school papers, or for people with limited vision or tech expertise, a solid, home based connection is preferable. ARPA allows cities to invest in improvements in broadband infrastructure, particularly in low-income communities.

In Youngstown, OH, for example, an estimated 52.5% of households are connected to broadband internet, with access as low as 28.2% of households in some neighborhoods (For comparison, the Dashboard city average is 72.4 %). More than a rural-urban digital divide, neighborhoods of all kinds across the country lack access, from smaller communities in more rural areas like Youngstown to low-income minoritized communities in our biggest cities, like the Bronx in New York City. Local leaders can use the Dashboard’s Broadband Connection data to prioritize neighborhoods that could benefit from the installation of fiber optic infrastructure.

Linking rental assistance to those who need it most

Even before the pandemic hit last March, millions of Americans were already struggling to find safe, affordable housing. COVID-19 has exacerbated this affordable housing emergency and laid bare a system in crisis, particularly for people of color and low-income communities. Delivering housing relief is a priority in the American Rescue Plan, building on the rental assistance programs initiated during the pandemic. Just northwest of Miami, the city of Hialeah, FL is trying to provide emergency assistance to renters and landlords. In this city, where over half of residents struggle to make housing and utility payments, city leaders and housing advocacy groups can use the Dashboard’s Excessive Housing Cost metric to identify neighborhoods most in need of relief. As new rounds of local funding become available, this information can help cities direct resources to neighborhoods, such as rental assistance support, where people are most likely to need them.

These are complicated issues, and while data and maps are just one piece of the puzzle, they can help align communities and leaders around the city’s greatest needs and most effective solutions. The work ahead to rebuild communities is immense. But we have an opportunity to think outside the box of what we once considered possible, expand the seats at the table to elevate more diverse community voices, and invest in innovative cross-sector solutions that create stronger, healthier, more equitable communities for all of us.

Do you have questions about using the data? Please reach out to our team, we’re happy to support you in applying Dashboard data in your community.

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