In March, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, or ARP. This massive spending bill delivers much-needed relief for families and communities through a series of cash infusions directly to states, cities, counties, and school districts. Many of these funds will directly support families impacted by the pandemic, in the form of financial assistance and expansion of benefits for housing, utilities, broadband, child care, food, and healthcare.
And in communities across the country, the ARP provides funds for upstream investments in infrastructure, public health, technology, data exchange, workforce development, and many more areas of need. Implementation of these funds is top of mind for tens of thousands of local leaders across America, including state and local leaders in the executive branch, as well as leaders in local school districts, homelessness ecosystems, and human services agencies.
The ARP offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to both meet the immediate “post-pandemic” needs of people in the community, and the chance to advance an agenda for systemic change, especially in regards to racial and economic injustice.
If you are preparing to tap into these funds in your community, here’s the advice that seven experts have been offering their respective audiences:
- Tristan Gibson of the Reinvestment Fund tells leaders to get your foot in the door now, in order to get a seat at the table early.
- Kathy Stack and Gary Glickman of the National Academy of Public Administration suggest taking advantage of the flexibility of the State and Local Fiscal Recovery (SLFR) funds.
- Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of Health and Human Services for North Carolina, suggests this is an opportunity to build shared assets for your community, especially in the data space.
- Lisa Cooper of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity suggests that targeting funds directly toward local grassroots organizations in vulnerable neighborhoods will be critical.
- Angela Duckworth of UPenn and Character Lab shared research demonstrating the importance of connecting students and families to critical social services.
- Allison Socol of The Education Trust urges community leaders to lobby their state leaders to target these new federal dollars to close opportunity gaps.
- Clarence Wardell from the White House Rescue Plan team offers a few key principles for leveraging ARP funds to advance equity.
You all are the experts on how to equitably improve the community, so you need to be a voice in the ARP strategy conversation with your city leaders.
- Tristan Gibson, Reinvestment Fund
Over on the Invest Health blog, Tristan Gibson shares four strategies to ensure you are at the planning table:
- Get your foot in the door now.
- Be prepared to demonstrate how your proposals align with ARP requirements.
- Ensure your plan is feasible according to the ARP timeline.
- Center projects around community needs and incorporate community voices.
States and localities should not let this window of opportunity pass.
- Kathy Stack and Gary Glickman of the National Academy of Public Administration
Writing for the APHSA blog, Kathy Stack and Gary Glickman ask questions you need to answer to ensure effectiveness, efficiency, and measurable outcomes from your effort to design and build data infrastructure and analytics capacity using ARP funds:
- Which sub-groups are in greatest need of benefits and services and what are the best channels for reaching them?
- What mix of services and benefits is optimal for different sub-groups, and how could their delivery be better coordinated?
- What outcomes are program investments achieving, by subgroup and geographic area, and what gaps must be closed to achieve equitable outcomes for underserved populations?
- What interventions have the greatest impact and cost-effectiveness?
- What upstream prevention strategies produce better outcomes and reduce downstream costs in other programs?
- What operational streamlining would improve the user experience and reduce costs?
- What major sources of improper payments are readily discoverable by merging data across programs?
This is an opportunity to think about building shared assets that are pretty expensive, but there's some one-time money here for States to really do it. I particularly think there's a huge opportunity in the data space.
- Mandy Cohen, MD, Secretary of Health & Human Services, State of North Carolina
Speaking with Health Evolution Forum Town Hall, Dr. Mandy Cohen said these new funds “are particularly useful for organizations in risk-based arrangements trying to invest in food security, stable housing, non-emergent transportation, and other social factors for health. This is a perfect opportunity, Cohen said, to work with state partners on how these dollars will be spent. For instance, if a state doesn’t have a shared infrastructure for referral between health and social service providers, the ARP funding would provide resources to create one.”
Once this drops off, what's going to happen to all of these people who are going to be depending on a lot of these resources?
- Lisa Cooper, Executive Director, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity
On the April webinar, What the American Rescue Plan Means for Public Health, Lisa Cooper explained that targeting funds directly toward local grassroots organizations in vulnerable neighborhoods will be critical, as “they're the ones who have the trust of the community." These organizations can ensure the funds are put to their most effective use, and can advocate for structural change in the years ahead as these funds run dry and need to be replaced by other investments.
We must recognize that our nation’s students are not just lagging as performers, they are suffering as people.
- Angela Duckworth, PhD, Professor, University of Pennsylvania; Founder and CEO, Character Lab
Angela Duckworth's latest research has found that a social, emotional, and academic “thriving gap” has opened up between in-person and remote high school students during the pandemic.
Connecting this research to practical next steps, the magazine District Administration shared six principles for summer learning and beyond, as defined by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, including a key process for ensuring positive outcomes:
- Connect students and families to critical social services: Administrators can leverage summer programs to launch a distributed approach to partnering for
reconnection, re-engagement, and social services—such as screening, triage and ongoing support—that will be in high demand in the fall.
It is critical that equity advocates are engaging with their state and district leaders, now and in the coming months and years, to ensure federal funds are directed to the students who need it most.
- Allison Socol, Asst. Director of P-12 Policy, The Education Trust
Referring to the $130 billion set aside for education, Allison Socol offered readers of the Education Trust blog five ways that state education leaders can ensure this funding advances equity:
- Ensure equity in fiscal policies.
- Meaningfully engage stakeholders in decisions about how additional federal funding will be used to support students and redesign public education to work for all students.
- Target additional resources, including federal stimulus funding, to create safe and equitable learning environments and provide whole child supports, particularly for vulnerable and systematically neglected students.
- Prioritize federal stimulus funds and additional state funding to evidence-based programs that address unfinished instruction and accelerate learning (e.g., targeted intensive tutoring, high-quality expanded learning time) and respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs in high-need districts and schools.
- Strategically allocate federal stimulus funding to address immediate students’ needs and lay the groundwork for systemic changes that can be sustained in the long-term.
We can’t make an investment decision and walk away. We have to be invested in making sure that those programs and initiatives are delivered well and in ways that are advancing equity.
- Clarence Wardell III, Chief Data and Equitable Delivery Officer, White House Rescue Plan team
At the 2021 Annual Conference of the National Association of Counties, Clarence Wardell told audience members that the actions counties take now will determine whether implementation of ARP contributes to reversing the widening disparities across socio-economic outcomes.
To advance initiatives in equity, he offered a few key principles:
- Design for ‘hardest to reach’ and most in need
- Design programs to ensure everyone will benefit — think about awareness, accessibility
- Building short cycles of feedback to inform qualitative discussions