Data shows how local governments have used Rescue Plan money

(Pepi Stojanovski / Unsplash)

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A new compilation of projects funded by last year’s American Rescue Plan shows that, among cities and counties with populations over 250,000, about 12% of money received by local governments has gone toward funding infrastructure investments, including IT and cybersecurity.

The National League of Cities and National Association of Counties, along with the Brookings Institution, published Thursday an interactive dashboard logging the expenditures that 152 municipal governments have made so far with their shares of the $350 billion in state and local assistance included in the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that President Joe Biden signed last March.

While the American Rescue Plan was being debated, groups including NACo, NLC and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers pushed Washington to make that $350 billion fund as flexible as possible for state and local leaders looking to shore up their organizations after the worst phases of the pandemic. As recently as last month, the U.S. Treasury Department was still tweaking its rules to allow for more spending on operations like cybersecurity and broadband expansion.

While infrastructure is a broad category in the scope of Rescue Plan spending, the new dashboard includes numerous major tech-oriented investments: Palm Beach County, Florida, is spending $46 million on broadband; Prince George’s County, Maryland is pumping more than $10 million into cybersecurity tools including endpoint detection and network monitoring; the Seattle’s IT department has spent nearly $4 million on remote-work tools for city employees.

And though the dashboard contains 2,334 projects totaling $18.4 billion, Alan Berube, a Brookings senior fellow, said those figures represent an early sum of the local relief funding.

“Among those cities and counties that put together their plans early on, those are the plans that are reflected in the tracker, they had enough project-level specificity,” he told StateScoop.

The dashboard’s data comes from reports that cities and counties filed with the Treasury as they prepared to use their Rescue Plan dollars. Berube said the tracker only features named projects that’ve been planned and budgeted — in addition to the 41 cities, 104 counties and seven consolidated city-counties, another 32 cities and 124 counties have submitted reports without specifying projects, and are thus excluded.

And while IT operations and other tech-adjacent projects, like 911 upgrades or new computers for libraries, are represented in the dashboard, they account for a small percentage of the overall spending. Berube said the biggest use of the funds by far has been replenishing revenues local governments lost in the 2020 economic downturn and hiring back workers who were laid off in the pandemic’s early months.

In that sense, Berube said the spending has been successful.

“If the plan was intended to help cities and counties and states replenish the revenues they lost due to the pandemic, I think it’s doing a pretty good job,” Berube said. “The administration and Congress were pretty clear they didn’t want a repeat of what happened in the Great Recession in which cities and counties and states reduced their employment and it never recovered.”

And though Berube said local government payrolls nationwide are still down about 750,000 jobs since before the pandemic, it appears cities and counties are making the most of their relief funds.

“They see investment in IT infrastructure, other infrastructure, these are good things to do with one-time money,” he said.

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American Rescue Plan, Brookings Institution, National Association of Counties (NACo), National League of Cities
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