Government leaders here are faced with the enormous task of deciding what to do with more than $200 million in American Rescue Plan funding coming collectively to Spokane County, the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley, school districts, and other local entities.
The funds are intended to help communities lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery from the economic effects of the pandemic.
Together, the funds represent a huge opportunity that cries out for us to step back and consider thoughtfully how to leverage those dollars to make catalytic investments that could range broadly from addressing health and education disparities to child care to improving regional infrastructure.
As this unprecedented allocation isn’t likely going to happen again, we must be discerning, strategic, and perhaps innovative in how we spend these resources. That all starts with public engagement.
We need to have community conversations involving neighbors, the business community, civic organizations, and nonprofits about priorities and types of investments that would be best for our communities.
In the city of Spokane, the Council has opened public dialogue with an online thought exchange that includes four main goals: Replenish pandemic-related lost revenue, support initiatives from community partner organizations to remedy damages caused by the pandemic, resiliency initiatives to create long term sustainable growth and stability, and relief for residents and businesses that have been left behind by other relief programs.
City leaders also are planning in-person and virtual town hall meetings to add to the mix of conversations.
Importantly, our leaders also should be looking at American Rescue Plan funding as an opportunity for regional collaboration, as Mayor Nadine Woodward has called for. It would be a failure if each jurisdiction vets priorities unilaterally without talking together about leveraging these funds for the greatest impact.
One difference between this funding and the earlier CARES Act funding, is that American Rescue Plan money is intended for economic recovery, whereas CARES Act funding was mainly intended for more immediate emergency relief.
We also should keep in mind that this money is for one-time use and might not be appropriate for ongoing programs with uncertain future funding. While there may be appropriate short-term applications for some of the funds, we should in large part look at investments that will catalyze long-term positive impacts.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury only recently closed its own public comment period regarding American Rescue Plan funds and is expected to issue final guidelines sometime in August.
Local government entities that receive the funds must allocate them by year-end 2024, and the funds must be spent by the end of 2026.
So, as we await federal guidance on appropriate uses for the funds, we’ve got some time to take a breath, and ensure we get this right.
It’s no time to insert politics or quibble over pet projects. If we apply micro-agendas of each entity, we risk using all the funds without ensuring broad, lasting benefits.
If we work together, we can take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime investment, so when 2027 comes around, we can look back and say we did something truly transformational.