Nearly three months since the passage of the American Rescue Plan, large sums of federal dollars promised state and local governments are slowly arriving in the Delaware Valley. So, what are local governments spending those millions of CARES Act dollars on?
The U.S. Treasury Department began distributing the $350 billion in state and local aid last month. Pennsylvania has received its funds and is distributing the money to counties and municipalities across the state.
“The county has received the first draw of $55 million,” said Adrienne Marofsky, public relations director for Delaware County. Officials expect the county to receive nearly $110 million total.
That’s true for Bucks County, too. County communications director Larry King said it has received “the first half of (our) ARP funds.”
But in Montgomery County, director of communications Kelly Cofransisco said their funds have yet to be received. The same is true for Lower Merion and Tredyffrin townships.
Treasury gave guidance that detailed ways in which the money received from the ARP may be spent. Provisions include supporting public health and replacing public sector revenue lost due to the pandemic. However, Washington also forbids using the money to cut taxes or pay down debts.
The rules are making planning a bit difficult. Joseph DiRocco, finance director of Tredyffrin Township, said it is “still reviewing all 151 pages of the final rules and will reference them before we make any final decisions.”
A consistent theme across both counties and municipalities is uncertainty on what the final spending plans will look like. Part of that may be a lack of urgency to develop a complete plan.
“Decisions are still to be made on how it will be spent,” said King, “but we will have about three and a half years to spend the total of $122 million that Bucks will eventually get.” With that extended deadline, local governments can take their time when crafting uses for the funds.
Still, ideas are floating. Bucks County Chief Operating Officer Margie McKevitt at a recent commissioners’ meeting said, “we are working toward developing a plan with our nonprofit social services providers… Partnering with our municipalities, and also looking at how to use these funds to help our businesses.”
Perhaps hinting at a plan on the horizon, McKevitt added, “These are all decisions the commissioners will have to make very soon.”
Cofrancisco says Montgomery County wants to make an “impact” with ARP funds. That means using the money to shape the recovery from the pandemic.
“Our leadership team is taking a holistic view of what economic recovery looks like for all of our residents, especially the most vulnerable,” she said. “We are also looking to redesign parts of (our social safety net) so our providers have the resources they need in challenging times, while also meeting the needs of our residents.”
Cofrancisco added the ARP funding at this moment presents a “once in a lifetime opportunity to create long-term prosperity for our residents.”
Some municipalities are hoping to complete infrastructure projects with the influx of cash.
“I anticipate we will focus on some of the infrastructure projects which we delayed during the pandemic,” said Daniel Bernheim, president of the Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners. “We have certain roads, bridges, and internal structures which are in perpetual need of repair and updating.”
DiRocco said, “One area we are considering allocating funds to is stormwater infrastructure projects.” While nothing is finalized, DiRocco did say he expects to “give a presentation at an upcoming board meeting outlining where the funds will be spent.”
The money may also be used as a way to help out constituents. Bernheim said his “colleagues on the board will see this as an opportunity for (a) certain project in their particular ward, of which they have a particular interest.”
As for why nothing is completely confirmed yet in Lower Merion, Bernheim says: “How to appropriately spend money which is available is much better than trying to decide how to spend funds that are not readily at your disposal.”