Members of the Frederick County Board will assess the county’s efforts on Tuesday to gauge public opinion and proposals on how to spend the first half of a $50 million American Rescue Plan Act allocation.
The federal Treasury Department has yet to release its final guidelines for distributing the funds, so the county cannot yet finalize its spending plans. The county received the first half of its funding in May, and the rest will come next year.
Federal lawmakers passed the $350 billion U.S. bailout bill in March to help state and local governments bring the pandemic under control, replace lost income and keep jobs, support households and businesses and to address the systemic inequalities in public and economic health that the pandemic has exacerbated.
Eligible uses include raising the wages of essential workers and investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, according to county documents. ARP’s requirements are generally considered more flexible than previous federal aids available during the pandemic.
Compared to the CARES Act of 2020 – which states used to quickly respond to the most serious threats associated with the pandemic in its first year – the ARP is intended for strategic and sustainable investment, with long-term recovery. of COVID in mind. CARES Act funding had to be spent within months, while the county can disburse each of its two ARP funding cycles over a three-year period, according to county documents.
Local governments are required to use community contributions to ensure that ARP funds “serve people who face significant barriers to service, including people of color, low-income people, people with low English and other traditionally underserved groups,” according to guidelines released by the Treasury Department. in June for state and local officials.
Officials continue to seek public input on how the county government should spend its allocation. An online survey released in July asks participants to identify the financial and health impacts the pandemic has had on their households and offers a chance to choose how the county should use its federal funds. The survey is available until August 24.
“It’s our share of federal money, and we pay all of our federal taxes,” County Executive Jan Gardner said in a July interview with The News-Post. “So we really want to make sure people have a say in our choices.”
County officials have compiled a broad list of proposed uses, which are intentionally flexible to allow for adjustments should federal guidelines change or if certain needs arise within the community as the pandemic progresses. The county plans to present a more concrete plan once the Treasury Department finalizes regulations for distributing the funds.
The county’s proposal includes four categories of spending, with three-fifths of the ARP allocation intended to ensure the continuity of government services in the event of a shortfall. This bin may also include compensating for lost revenue from county-owned care facilities — including the Frederick Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living — as well as improving cybersecurity and broadband access in rural and underserved areas of the county, according to county records.
The distribution includes more than $12 million to support the county’s COVID response and prevention efforts and to address long-standing public health disparities in the county. Improving access to mental health treatment and tackling substance abuse – issues the pandemic has also intensified – are also under consideration.
The county may use funds to bolster housing support programs or services that benefit residents experiencing housing insecurity as part of a larger effort to help communities hardest hit by the pandemic. The county can also allocate funds to offset economic damage the pandemic has caused or worsened. This could include funding for eviction prevention programs, grants for struggling small businesses, or expanding access to child care.
Follow Jack Hogan on Twitter: @jckhogan