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Here’s How the City Plans to Spend $186 Million in Stimulus Money

Brent Warren Brent Warren Here’s How the City Plans to Spend $186 Million in Stimulus MoneyPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Although details are scarce, the City of Columbus is beginning to make plans for how to spend $186 million of federal money that will soon be coming its way.

The funds come from the coronavirus relief bill that was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11. The bill, officially known as the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, directs a total of $350 billion to state and local governments.

The money for cities is allocated based on the formula for Community Development Block Grants, which means that several Ohio cities with higher levels of poverty and older housing stock than Columbus will be receiving more (Cleveland will be getting $541 million).

County governments will also receive separate allocations – Franklin County is in line to receive $255 million.

Robin Davis, spokesperson for Mayor Andrew Ginther’s office, said that the city has not yet received detailed guidance from the U.S. government on how the money is to be spent or distributed, but is expecting the funds to arrive in two deposits – one will be sent within the next few months, and the other at the end of 2021. Cities will have until the end of 2024 to spend the money.

The act does specify several categories of acceptable uses for the funds, as summarized by the National Conference of State Legislatures:

  • Respond to the COVID-19 emergency and address its economic effects, including through aid to households, small businesses, nonprofits, and industries such as tourism and hospitality.
  • Provide premium pay to essential employees or grants to their employers. Premium pay couldn’t exceed $13 per hour or $25,000 per worker.
  • Provide government services affected by a revenue reduction resulting from COVID-19.
  • Make investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

Columbus’ plans for the money so far all fall within those parameters, according to a broad outline of the city’s priorities provided by Davis.

“The city’s first priority will be to address the public health needs of the community with a focus on increased access to vaccination for all residents – including minorities and underserved populations,” said Davis. “Beyond public health, we will be focused on employment and summer youth programming, assistance to families in need and employers.”

Other short-term needs cited by Davis include “food and housing support and help [for] small and minority businesses – to offer a bridge to recovery.”

“More long-term, we will be focused on making investments to ensure an equitable recovery and to address the disparities that existed pre-COVID,” she added. “We must ensure those hit hardest by unemployment and being out of school are not left behind. We will also look to support our city’s nonprofit community and anchor institutions needed to sustain a recovery, and will recoup costs borne by the city to protect the city’s financial position and guard against any potential economic downturn.”

The Central Ohio Transit Authority will also be receiving stimulus funds, although a spokesperson said that they don’t yet know the final dollar amount or exactly when they will receive it.

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