As millions and millions of federal dollars stuff local coffers, where will it all be spent?

by | Aug 2, 2021

The federal government has handed out a staggering amount of money across the country to assist in the economic recovery from the pandemic. Florida cities and counties have received millions and millions of dollars, leaving some to ask what can it be spent on and is there any oversight.

The $2 trillion American Recovery Act included $350 billion in federal funds which were broken down into $195 billion earmarked for states and the District of Columbia; $65 billion for counties; $45.6 billion for 142 metropolitan cities; $20 billion for tribal governments; and $19.5 billion for smaller local governments that are not counties, generally with populations of fewer than 50,000.

Florida’s share was $8.8 billion, with local governments receiving anywhere from a paltry $1.6 million to the City of Destin to over $527 million to Miami-Dade County. These funds make up a substantial increase to these local government coffers. For instance, the City of Miami received a whopping $137,639,417.00, which is close to 10 percent of the city’s $1,354,678,000 2021-22 Proposed Operating Budget. A full list of money received by cities is here  and counties here.

According to the U.S. Treasury’s interim final rule to implement the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Fund and the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund established under the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal funds can be used to cover costs incurred during the period beginning March 3, 2021, and ending December 31, 2024 in responding to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, for any of the following litany of purposes.

Funds can be used for the mitigation and prevention of COVID-19, including expenses related to COVID-19 vaccination programs and sites, including staffing, acquisition of equipment or supplies, facilities costs, and information technology or other administrative expenses.

Funds can also be used for pandemic-related expenses of public hospitals, clinics, and congregate living facilities, such as skilled nursing facilities, long-term care facilities, incarceration settings, homeless shelters, residential foster care facilities, residential behavioral health treatment, and other group living facilities.

It will even allow providing paid sick and paid family and medical leave to public employees to enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions and the expenses for treatment of the long-term COVID symptoms or effects, including post-intensive care syndrome.

The funds can also be used for mental health treatment, substance misuse treatment, and other behavioral health services needed because of the pandemic.

The money can also be used to hire public health and safety staff as week as state and local government staff mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The funds can be used for assistance to unemployed workers for programs such as job training.

Also allowed are contributions to State unemployment insurance trust funds to boost it up to the pre-pandemic level.

Local governments can give assistance to small businesses, impacted industries (like tourism, travel and hospitality) and nonprofits, including loans, grants, in-kind assistance, technical assistance or other services, that responds to the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
They can even provide assistance to households, including cash assistance programs and survivor’s benefits for family members of individuals who have died from COVID-19.

The money can also be used for assistance for households, businesses, or populations disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, including minorities, the homeless, and the economically disadvantaged. It can be used for housing vouchers and assistance relocating to neighborhoods with higher levels of economic opportunity and to reduce concentrated areas of low economic opportunity;

It can also be used for education, including new or expanded early learning services, assistance to high-poverty school districts to advance “equitable funding across districts” and educational services to “address the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of students.”

It can also be used for childcare, welfare and social services.

The funds can be used to improve infrastructure, especially for water and sewer infrastructure and expanding broadband infrastructure.

What the funds can’t be used for is a much smaller list. It cannot be used for spending that would “either directly or indirectly offset a reduction in the net tax revenue” or delay the imposition of any tax or tax increase. It also cannot be used to stabilize pension funds.

As far as oversight, local governments receiving ARA funds must provide to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury annual reports, providing detailed accounting of the uses of funds, all modifications to the State’s tax revenue sources, and any other required information.

The first accounting of how Florida’s cities and counties are spending their millions in federal funding doled out in May are due to the U.S. Treasury by the end of August and will cover May through July 31. The next reports will be due a year from now. All money is to be spent by the end of 2024.


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