One Time Spending for Long-Term Impact: Evaluating Washtenaw County’s American Rescue Plan Act Allocations
By Amanda Nothaft
The COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on Black and other non-White communities illustrated existing economic and health disparities, not only nationally, but also in Washtenaw County. Mirroring national trends, Black people in Washtenaw County had higher rates of COVID-19 infection and were more likely to die from COVID-19 than White people due to economic and health disparities that increased their risk for severe disease. Prior to the pandemic, Washtenaw County and health care organizations within the county had begun to take steps to mitigate unequal outcomes by race and income on education, employment, and health by intentionally creating policies and targeting resources to address those inequities.
In the wake of the public health crisis and the negative economic impacts it created, the federal government allocated money in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to provide local governments money to address the public health and economic impacts of the pandemic on families and businesses, maintain services amidst declines in revenue due to the crisis, and create a strong, equitable recovery by making investments that support long-term growth and opportunity. These funds provide Washtenaw County with a unique chance to bolster current efforts to eliminate gaps in opportunity. This memo outlines the programs funded through the initial allocations of ARPA funding and discusses core themes county officials should bear in mind in determining how to spend the second installment of federal funds. In particular, county officials should: 1) ensure programs funded in their initial allocation are adequate to achieve program success; 2) be cautious in funding programs requiring a permanent funding source; and 3) prioritize spending on one-time investments that are likely to yield long-term impacts.
- Target funding to key programs and priorities. While it may be tempting to spread a relatively large amount of discretionary dollars across many initiatives, this risks diluting the impact of this one-time spending. County officials should focus on achieving specific, measurable goals that focus on reducing social inequities by race and income and ensure the allocations are large enough to achieve them.
- Ensure current funding levels are adequate for program success. The first two rounds of allocations created a myriad of programs. The county should revisit the funding for these initiatives to ensure current allocations are sufficient to be effective.
- Consider long-term impacts. Focusing on long-term versus short-term impacts when designing funded programs will help guarantee these funds have a lasting impact.
- Prioritize one-time investments. Because ARPA dollars must be spent by the end of 2024, the county should prioritize one-time spending, rather than creating initiatives that will need ongoing support from general funds once ARPA dollars are spent.
- Focus on program implementation. Many of the funded interventions require thoughtful distribution of grants to community organizations and careful implementation of new programming. County officials should be sure to rely on evidence-based research and best practices in funding community organizations and designing new programs.