When the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP) became law in March, People’s Action was filled with joy and delight. This was a hard-won victory for our organizers, with tangible benefits for real people, and - we hope - it will be the start of an equitable recovery for the communities that need this most.
Even as we celebrate, we must prepare for the next round in the fight. Because we know any policy win is only as good as its implementation.
So as soon as ARP passed, People’s Action brought together a cohort of member groups to keep an eye on where this money goes, support local efforts to watchdog implementation, push for particular expenditures that will actually help people, and hold states accountable for the responsible use of ARP funds overall.
People’s Action is holding the line on an equitable recovery for our communities, getting resources to those who need them most, and fighting for community input and transparency.
Implementation is the key to true recovery - because it’s clear that if we leave it up to state and local authorities to divvy up these funds, without oversight and input from communities, they will continue to get it wrong when they don’t center the voices of impacted communities hardest hit by the pandemic.
That's why more than half of People’s Action member groups - from the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) and Take Action Minnesota (TAMN) to the Arkansas Public Policy Panel (APPP) and Rise Up West Virginia, affiliated with the West Virginia Citizen Action Group - have launched or are launching campaigns around the ARP State and Local Fiscal Relief Funds.
More People's Action groups are joining this effort every day. Some are pushing back against bad government spending, while others are positioning potential victories. They are engaging local people to identify their needs, and educating rural and small-town elected officials about what resources they can access. And some are are already winning!
In Iowa, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors just approved a $2 million investment of ARP funds to create an Excluded Workers Fund for payments to workers who were ineligible for previous relief programs, such as unemployment insurance or stimulus checks.
This investment is the direct result of more than eight months of organizing and agitation by directly impacted immigrant workers and previously incarcerated people. The People’s Action member group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) worked closely with their base and with the Catholic Worker House in Iowa City to help rally a network of unions, churches, community organizations, and racial justice groups to create Iowa’s Fund Excluded Workers Coalition.
One of the Johnson County Supervisors who helped create this fund is Jon Green, who won a landslide victory in a special election on June 8 with the support of CCI's electoral partner organization, CCI Action. Originally from Lone Tree, Iowa, Green campaigned on a platform that included using American Rescue Plan funding to provide direct relief to those who were hit hardest by the pandemic.
In the spring of 2021, Iowa CCI also placed half-page ads in the state's largest newspapers, and surveyed thousands of Iowans to let them know about ARP and gather their input on how to spend the funds. In August, when Iowa's Republican Governor, Kim Reynolds, failed to let small-town mayors and clerks know about benefits their town could receive through ARP, CCI mailed local officials directly to let them know.
In New Jersey, Amanda Devecka-Rinear from the New Jersey Organizing Project (NJOP) provided testimony at a statewide online hearing about how the state should spend its $6.2 billion ARP allocation. They supported additional funds for housing support and advocated for resources to address the overdose crisis.
As part of a statewide coalition, NJOP has successfully advocated for some of the strongest renter protections in the country, and ARP funds for both renters and homeowners. They joined Governor Murphy at an August bill-signing, where assistance for renters was more than doubled to $750 million, with $325.6 million allocated for homeowners facing delinquency, default, or foreclosure.
In late October, People’s Action joined Community Change for a virtual meeting with with U.S. Department of the Treasury including Kitty Richards, Director of State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds in the Office of Recovery Programs. Richards and others shed light on the guidelines and requirements for the eligible uses of ARP funds.
ARP implementation means a lot to Alabama. Why? Because not only has the state been hard-hit by COVID and the increasing frequency of natural disasters caused by climate change, but because Alabama's elected officials seem to have little or no interest in what recovery means to the people of their state. Alabama lawmakers just allocated $400 million in ARP funds to build three super-sized prisons.
What do prisons have to do with recovery from a pandemic? Nothing! The State of Alabama is clearly not listening to its people, and seems to think no one will hold them to account for misusing taxpayer dollars.
They are wrong. People’s Action, Hometown Action, and our partners will continue to do all we can to draw attention to abuses of taxpayer funds like these. Alabama’s shameless move to steer taxpayer funds away from the communities that need them most makes clear that deep investment and organizing are still needed to transform state and local power dynamics, and organizations like Hometown Action are so important in calling out the loopholes and gaps in the implementation process at the state and local levels.
There is more - in Chicago, The People’s Lobby is working with partners to create a Budget for Black Lives to block a proposed $26 million expansion of the Cook County Jail and Sheriff’s department. They also recently completed more than 500 surveys to elevate the voices of community members. Based on this input, they are calling for ARP funds to be spent locally on housing rehabilitation in the 30 zip codes most impacted by incarceration, creating a jobs pipeline for formerly incarcerated people to do that work.
And In St. Louis, Missouri Jobs With Justice helped win $5 million in direct cash assistance. This was a direct result of policy director Richard von Glahn being appointed to a board with the city's new mayor to help oversee the spending of the estimated total $517 million the city will receive from ARP. Von Glahn was asked to help target cash assistance to the lowest income individuals and families and undocumented workers who have been left out of other assistance programs.
These are just a few examples of amazing work already underway across the country, and there’s more to come. And with the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now signed into law and the Build Back Better Act likely to pass soon, a total of more than $6 trillion may ultimately flow into localities and states across the country.
People’s Action welcomes these much-needed investments, and stands ready to defend our priorities and the communities that need recovery most.
Our member groups all across the country are poised to take advantage of the opportunities this federal legislation creates to lay the groundwork for transformative changes to positively impact people, communities and the planet.
And we will make sure elected officials know they’ll face accountability if they misuse this opportunity to stand up for the communities they were elected to represent.