Kathleen Stoll: Local voices should guide relief spending
- By Kathleen Stoll
- Apr 27, 2021
Good ideas and local input are needed in every county and in cities across West Virginia. Of course, this is always true, but right now there is an important new opportunity to put good ideas into action with new federal money coming to our communities. The time is now for local community members to put forth their ideas about what will really work to help reduce hardship, improve access to care and bolster local economies as we work together to recover from COVID-19’s effects.
Here’s why local voices are so important right now. The American Rescue Plan Act, the COVID-19 relief bill recently passed by Congress, will bring much-needed new funding to West Virginia. A total of $677 million in federal funds will be distributed across the state’s 55 counties and to many of our cities. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., voted for the act, and his office has provided estimates of how much money each West Virginia county and city will receive.
Decisions on how to spend this significant influx of money in state and local aid are already being considered by county commissioners and city council members. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has released its guidance on pre-award requirements, outlining immediate steps counties need to take to receive direct payments from the Treasury. The Treasury announced the creation of a new office dedicated to the distribution of COVID-19 funding.
Counties and cities can use the new federal funding to respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency or its negative economic effects. The Treasury will release more guidance in May about the allowable use of funds, but its website indicates that there will be plenty of room for innovative strategies.
As local officials begin to think about how to best invest this money, they need to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. COVID-19 has had harmful health and economic impacts on communities across West Virginia, but it has hit each and every community in different ways.
Every person and community in West Virginia has been affected by the pandemic over the past year. Some of us spent the year struggling to work from a bedroom while our kids went to school at the dining room table. Small-business owners struggled to keep their doors open. Some of us lost our jobs or went to work every day at a hospital, restaurant or grocery store, putting our lives on the line.
Local officials can use these new federal funds to provide direct relief to families, to help small businesses, to improve our public health system, expand broadband or repair sewers, to name just a few options.
That is why local officials must engage community members and organizations on how the funds can best address the most pressing needs. Every county and city should host a series of public forums that allow community members to provide input into the use of these new federal funds.
Communities of color have been hardest hit by the pandemic, because of unfair and discriminatory barriers to economic security and health care access. West Virginia can use this new federal funding to address that reality and the longstanding economic and health inequities at the root of it. But to do this successfully, members of those communities and community-based organizations that are led by and serve people of color need a seat at the table.
While a return to normalcy is in sight, there is still significant work to be done as we recover and rebuild. An equitable recovery from COVID-19 in West Virginia will be possible only if local officials work with diverse community members to identify and provide responsive relief.
The American Rescue Plan Act provides critical resources to help individuals and families hardest hit in West Virginia to recover and thrive — but only if they are given a real opportunity to be included in local county and city decision-making.
Kathleen Stoll is the policy director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and operates Kat Consulting, a policy and economic consulting business.