ARPA funding is a step toward equity: An interview with Lamond Daniels

American Rescue Plan Act

December 9, 2021

The American Rescue Plan is an almost $2 trillion dollar economic stimulus bill that was signed into law in March 2021, one year after the COVID-19 pandemic began. The bill provides relief funds to local governments to address the impacts of COVID-19 on the economy and public health. HCCC Project Director Brittany Perrotte connected with Lamond Daniels from our advisory council to talk about how Challenge grantees and other cities and counties can leverage this funding stream to address public health needs in their communities.

Q: To get us started, can you tell me a little bit about what makes this funding unique and how you’re approaching this opportunity in the City of Norwalk?

A: In particular, the federal legislation is an opportunity to look at social issues and move the needle on where funding streams were inconsistent or not happening. Through the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA dollars, cities, counties, states and Tribal communities can receive funding to mitigate the compounded issues caused by the pandemic and more. So, I want to make that very clear: Your city or county has money! This opportunity was designed to support communities to help them get back on their feet.

I think we all will agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit our communities hard, some much more severely than others, including Black and brown communities that were already struggling before the pandemic be it in health or socioeconomically.  I believe the pandemic has shed a light on these disparities in our communities.

I really see the dollars municipalities have been given as an opportunity to really begin to tackle these difficult issues, and bring partners to the table because one entity cannot do it alone. In Norwalk, we’re asking our community to help identify how and where to use these dollars to make an impact. We’ve invited our nonprofit partners to the table to help us figure out what the priorities in our community should be.

Q: How do you think ARPA funds could support the work of the HCCC grantees to address food access and access to care at the local level?

A: What makes me excited is that the problems that grantees are addressing are eligible [for funding]. For the first time, it feels like a national acknowledgment for the work we have done for a very long time. Non-profits and our partners have the data and know what works. We know the models, we know the systems, and we have the partners. Here’s another good thing: eligibility is very broad and flexible. If your city has not prioritized your issue, then find opportunities to educate and bring awareness to the decisionmakers.

Q: Who might be responsible for administering the funds, and what would the process be to pursue funding with ARPA dollars?

A: First, educate yourself on what is eligible. If you have not read the US Department of Treasury guidelines, pick it up. It articulates what the eligible uses are, and [addressing] food insecurity certainly is one of them.

Then, if what you’re doing is an eligible category, find out if your local city, county or state has prioritized or committed funding to it. If not, it’s time to go to work. You have a role to play, and that is to educate!  Use data, stories and invite conversations — to bring awareness to the issues to decisionmakers. Hopefully, whoever's responsible for administering those funds may reconsider what those priorities are in your community.

Finally, Google ARPA and your community to find out where those decisionmaking bodies are: your local chief elected official’s office, governor, legislative council, board of alderman’s or county health commissioners might be administering the funds. Reach out to your local government and ask; someone should be able to assist you. In some regions, United Way or National League of Cities would be a good resource.

Q: How can community voices be brought into conversations about ARPA spending?

A: As a nonprofit, be creative in how you elevate the great work you do every day. I used to have coffee or breakfast with the legislator in our building. I found early in the morning to be effective for getting a better crowd. Identify individuals who have utilized your services and see if they’re willing to share their story and make it personal. I believe in bringing in the community voice, and not just as a recipient of the service, but also to share how the work is good for the larger community. Sometimes you need someone to say that I have nothing in this, but only that this is important to me and my community or this service has really changed my life.

Q: When is the right time to reach out to local decisionmakers about community priorities for using the ARPA funds?

A: The sense of urgency is now! Here’s the exciting thing: the way the dollars are being administered from the federal government, it will be spread over two years. They already have allocated the first half right now, but the remaining dollars are coming in year two. If you aren’t involved in educating or advocating for meaningful priorities, you want to start that process and make your voice known.

In Norwalk, we will be funding some individual organizations, but we're also funding partnerships and coalitions. So, when you think about how to use these funds, for example, you need to ask who else is doing food insecurity in your community and how can you come together with one concerted voice around why this is important in your community. Same with health care. How can we come with one voice? You have an amazing opportunity to advocate to help your community thrive.

Lastly — have confidence that you know what works! Take that expertise and the partnerships you’ve developed to tell your story, why this matters and why you should be a recipient of the ARPA dollars.

Lamond Daniels is a Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge advisory council member and was also a part of the development and design of the inaugural HCCC project. He now works in local city government in Norwalk, Connecticut, as the Chief of Community Services. In this role, Lamond oversees what he calls the “touch points of the city,” including health and human services, libraries and fair rent issues.

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