Brookings Associate Reflects on ARPA Funding in Post-COVID Report

After a large injection of recovery funds, research shows state and local governments may have altered the initial trajectory of existing programs. 

small plants sprouting from stacks of coinsThe American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is the most common way people refer to the influx of cash that came to local and state governments in an attempt to bolster services and resources during the COVID-19 federal emergency. There were multiple waves of funding, and the restrictions changed throughout the roll out process depending on which pool of money was being used. A Brooking Institution article recently looked back on two-years of funding strategies as the emergency has come to a close.

These funds were distributed as grants, which typically come with a substantial reporting requirement as well as narrow uses for the monies. The federal government was making an effort to rush this funding out the door but tight timelines to use it and uncertainty about how exactly the funding could be used slowed implementation down initially. Those requirements loosened up as the pandemic wore on, but regardless, state and local governments had to move quickly and decisively to get these dollars to work in communities.

This influx of funding, some of which became uniquely flexible, allowed governments to experiment with existing programs and even start-up new ones, especially in the division of human services. The rare opportunity that presented itself, despite the challenges, has researchers speculating that the infusion of funds could have changed the long-term outcomes of a number of different resources.

 …it’s hard to believe such a large injection of federal funds—and cities’ and counties’ efforts to invest them innovatively—won’t result in altered community trajectories in many places, and ultimately, changed conditions and improvements in residents’ quality of life.

What those long-term outcomes are will be evolving and more clear in the coming years, even decades. One major consideration as to the longevity of any potential upside will hinge on how local governments are able to sustain any new programs that are having a significant impact but are not currently built into existing budgets and general operating funds. Replacing this amount of grant funding, will be a tall task and local officials will have to consider weighing competing priorities, potentially changing course from legacy services in place of new strategies.

These exact concerns will be a topic at the 2023 MACo Summer Conference session titled, “When the Money Runs Out: Serving Communities After ARPA.” An esteemed panel of leaders in both Health and Human Services will discuss the progress that was made with these funds in Maryland and what they see for the future of some of those programs that benefited the most.

The 2023 MACo Summer Conference will be held at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City, MD from August 16-19. This year’s theme is “Where The Rubber Meets the Road.” More information can be found on our conference website.

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Questions? Contact Virginia White