Will state policymakers allow us to use it to advance economic and racial equity?
Thanks to federal recovery legislation enacted in 2021, Arkansas will receive an additional $786,560,790 this month to help deal with the harm caused by the COVID-19 public health and economic crises.
The American Rescue Plan Act provided $198 billion in flexible fiscal aid to states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico (and $130.2 billion to local governments) to be spent over several years to address pandemic-related revenue shortfalls and help those disproportionately harmed by COVID-19 and its wake.
Twenty states — those with higher-than-average unemployment rates — received their full allotment of federal funds last year. The rest of the states received half of their funds last year, with the rest distributed this year. According to analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), Arkansas will receive an additional $786,560,790 when the second round of funding is released this spring, on top of the $786,560,790 received in the summer of 2021.
All told, an additional $43 billion of flexible recovery funds will be released this year, on top of $155 billion already received in 2021. States have until the end of 2024 to earmark the funds for specific use, and until the end of 2026 to spend them.
Instead of turning down this money and making it harder for Arkansans to benefit like we did with emergency rental assistance, we should leverage this funding to build a strong foundation for recovery for everyone who calls our state home — including those disproportionately harmed by the pandemic, such as people with low-paying jobs and people of color. Targeted, evidence-based investments would seed change that would reduce inequality and promote health, climate, and economic justice well into the future.
Already, states have used this flexible aid to support a robust and equitable recovery, making investments in housing and eviction protection, access to healthy food, early childhood education and care, public and mental health services, immigrant assistance, and higher education. Federal guidance encourages states to seek input from local communities about what investments would have the biggest impact.
“Between the lessons available from other states and the first-hand expertise of their own communities, states can draw on a wealth of knowledge to inform the use of remaining federal funds and to continue building a shared, more equitable future,” said Iris Hinh, research associate at CBPP.