With the specific purpose of aiding in the recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 in mind, the American Rescue Plan Act funds provide a unique opportunity to address a myriad of existing community issues that the pandemic has exacerbated. One such issue being the systemic inequities that create challenges for populations that are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. ICMA partnered with Chris Fabian, founder, and CEO of ResourceX, and Jessica Clarke, deputy city manager of Takoma Park, Maryland, to discuss a game plan that ensures the equitable distribution of these resources during their Prioritizing ARPA Resources for Equity Initiatives webinar.
Breaking Down the Opportunity
The American Rescue Plan Act opens the door to putting legitimate funding behind the pursuit of bold and life-changing projects and initiatives in your community. For this reason, much care and consideration must be placed in how this one-time funding is allocated. There is natural friction in opinions regarding the use of these resources, which is why a clear plan is necessary to both get the best proposals to emerge and with the best proposals, conduct an evaluation and prioritization framework to select which proposals to carry out.
The first step for curating an ARPA strategy that is tailormade to your community is gathering suggested proposals from residents and other stakeholders. During the proposal generation phase, the intentions behind suggested proposals must be clear, with minimum specifications outlined. There is natural tension between achieving short-term and long-term goals with the use of this funding, so there must be a balance in which proposals cater to short-term relief, and which have more long-term implications that address pre-existing needs and disparities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Gathering proposals through the use of a proposal form submission will help keep suggested proposals organized and ready for evaluation. Proposal forms should prompt submitters to outline the ideation behind their proposal, their intended outcomes if their proposal receives funding, and minimum specifications.
Proposal Evaluation and Prioritization
Once ample proposals have been gathered, the next phase is to score proposals based on such metrics as feasibility, equity, eligibility, climate impact, community feedback, complexity, and anything else your community holds as a priority. Once a score has been allocated to each proposed program and project, these proposals can be prioritized using a tiered system. Tiers one and two should include projects and programs that have the most immediate impact, are ready to implement, and are highly important. Tiers three and four should include projects and programs that are also highly important, but may not be as urgent or ready to implement. Beyond tier four includes projects that may not be eligible for ARPA, may not be feasible within the timeframe, and should be considered through the use of other funding.
Takoma Park Spending Plan Development for ARPA
In the case of Takoma Park, Maryland, Jessica Clarke outlined how they are tactfully approaching the use of this once-in-a-lifetime funding by utilizing the process outlined by ResourceX. For some context, Takoma Park has a population of 17,672 residents with 56.7% being people of color (34% African American and 14.5% being Hispanic or Latino), and 31% of the city population being foreign-born (34% of all residents speaking a language other than English while at home). Income below the poverty level is experienced by 7.6% of Takoma Park residents, with the population being nearly evenly split between renters and homeowners and 14% of renter households being severely cost burdened. These burdens are felt more deeply among African American and Hispanic residents, who experience lower levels of education, higher unemployment, and lower rates of home ownership.
These figures were brought into consideration during the development of Takoma Park’s Staff- recommended ARPA Spending Plan. The plan entails five phases of how to allocate the city’s $17.4 million in ARPA funding that both meets eligibility requirements and addresses community needs. These phases include proposal creation, proposal development, proposal evaluation/scoring, proposal prioritization, and spending plan formulation. Takoma Park’s proposal generation phase garnered more than 40 proposals brought forth by councilmembers, residents, nonprofits, and other stakeholders. From the original 40, 19 of the top-ranked proposals were selected for the Staff-recommended Spending Plan by using Resource X’s priority-based budgeting scoring process.
Takoma Park recognizes the balance needed between funding projects that cater to the short-term priority of providing immediate aide to vulnerable residents and businesses to facilitate their recovery from the pandemic, as well as the long-term priority of igniting systemic improvements for residents, businesses, and the city government that will have transformative impacts for years to come. The consideration of these short-term and long-term priorities are seen in Takoma Park’s three spending plan key areas: assisting the city’s most vulnerable residents and businesses, investing in city facilities and public infrastructure, and supporting city operations, workforce, and fiscal stability. Some project examples that have emerged from Takoma Park include direct cash assistance, a community ambassador program, nonprofit grants to help fill service gaps, mental health counselors, a business incubator, multi-family housing rehabilitation, new library construction, a digital equity initiative, and more. With careful consideration, prioritization, and planning Takoma Park is using their ARPA funds to build a recovered and resilient future for their residents, and so can you. Whether you explore the model outlined by ResourceX and implemented by Takoma Park, or utilize other tools and processes to help create or further develop an ARPA strategy that works for your community, there are a variety of approaches to putting these resources to work.
Your Community’s ARPA Plan
It is critical that a clear and objective ARPA proposal evaluation is conducted, resulting in an equitable designation and prioritization of funding allocation to achieve the best possible outcome for your community. Gathering proposals from your community’s residents and other stakeholders, prioritizing each proposal based on an established grading rubric, and choosing projects and initiatives that will yield the most positive and equitable outcomes for your community will instill confidence in how this one-time funding is spent. For more guidance, request a ResourceX demo and view ICMA’s other ARPA and equity-focused resources.
ICMA is working to develop a series of upcoming events to assist ARPA coordinators and local leaders in the planning and management of these resources. Interested in being a part of this network and notified of future learning opportunities? Provide your contact information via this form.