Here’s what the end of the American Rescue Plan Act dollars means for the local governments that have relied on them
Houston: The COVID-19 pandemic has officially come to an end after more than three years. President Joe Biden signed the legislation to end the public health emergency crisis on May 11 last month. In the early days of the pandemic, the American Rescue Plan Act was passed by the Trump administration to assist families and businesses stay afloat as the world economy was rapidly sinking due to the increase of coronavirus cases. With the official declaration of the end of the pandemic, questions have been raised as to what it will mean for the cities and communities that have relied on these dollars while also building new programs with the funds.
In February of 2022, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner launched the One Safe Houston Public Safety Initiative to crack down on violent crime. “Every Houstonian deserves to feel safe,” Turner said. At the time, homicides were escalating uncontrollably, and the citywide violence was described as a “public health crisis” by Mayor Turner. The 18-page initiative consisted of various strategies with a price tag of approximately $44 million. Since then, the total has risen to $68 million, according to Mayor Turner. However, he is quick to admit that the end of the pandemic means the end of ARPA dollars.
As a result of this initiative, the homicide rate in Houston has dropped 20% since 2022. The question now is, will programs like One Safe Houston disappear without the backing of federal dollars? “A lot of the initiatives that we’ve put in place, we’ve provided funding, not just for this year, but for next year or the year after,” Turner said. This means that the next mayor of Houston will face public safety without the money Washington DC has provided. However, this is a problem that local governments are facing everywhere.
According to officials, Houston and Harris County received well over $1 billion, much of which was budgeted for future use. “You may be concerned because you don’t know how the taxing units are going to react to this, but schools have the highest reservations they’ve ever had due to ARPA, and so do cities and counties. So, the reality is, they just need to stop spending free federal money,” Senator Paul Bettencourt said. However, ARPA dollars have been used to create vital social services. Some of those services that citizens have not only used, but now rely on.
Ed Emmett, KPRC 2 policy analyst and former Harris Provincial Judge, believes ARPA funds have been a good thing, but he’s also quick to point out that local governments will soon face difficult decisions in determining what priorities are. “Either the infrastructure will suffer or some social problems that have been put in place will disappear,” Emmett said. Turner told KPRC 2 Investigates he will continue to press crime to maintain the downward trend. The end of ARPA dollars will create new challenges, putting pressure on local governments to find sustainable ways to implement vital social services and maintain public safety.
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