Your town might be sitting on pandemic cash it could use to build a grocery store or launch a guaranteed-basic-income pilot

By: Juliana Kaplan

See original post here.


  • President Biden’s 2021 American Rescue Plan included $350 billion for local and state governments.
  • Some states have barely touched their money, even though they have to allocate it by 2024.
  • Others are pouring funds into everything from grocery stores to basic-income pilot programs.

When the pandemic hit, older people in Charleston, West Virginia, suddenly found themselves with a lot less food.

Keep Your Faith Corp. — a local nonprofit that focuses, in part, on food-system development — stepped in to fill the gaps, bringing those people pop-up farmers markets and food education.

“It was well needed,” Dural Miller, the founder and the CEO of Keep Your Faith, told Insider. 

But as Miller worked on the nonprofit’s mini farm, which sits in an empty lot, he’d notice older people making their way through the alley. They told him they were walking from their homes to Kroger, the nearest grocery store — which was at least a 25- to 30-minute walk.

That got Miller thinking about building a grocery store, or even just a shed to sell fresh food from at a lower cost. One day, while riding around, he spotted a nice vacant building. He learned the city land committee had taken over the abandoned structure and that, way back when, it had been a grocery store called Abraham Grocery.

Now, starting in November, it’ll be a new grocery store, Miss Ruby’s Corner Market, to serve the community. That’s possible through partnerships with the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition and the local farmers market — and some funding from President Joe Biden’s 2021 economic-recovery package.

In 2021, the federal government gave states and cities $350 billion to invest in communities through the American Rescue Plan Act, an economic package meant to jump-start the economy through massive influxes in spending, stimulus checks, and an enhanced child tax credit. 

Now some governments have been cashing in on that — while others are still sitting on billions. The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found that as of October, states and Washington, DC, had spent just 38% of the funds and local governments had spent about 27% of their allocations. States have until 2024 to allocate their funds, then have to spend them by 2026. If they don’t, they’ll lose the money.

“We see, both at the state level and at the local level, lots of recipient governments who have either not spent anything or have barely started spending it,” Dave Kamper, the senior state-policy coordinator for the Economic Analysis and Research Network and the Economic Policy Institute, told Insider.

Kamper said he worried that states were facing paralysis of choice or treating the money as a de-facto rainy-day fund. Many states and local governments expected to see continued revenue shortfalls earlier in the pandemic, which the American Rescue Plan was meant to help plug, but many areas emerged relatively healthy.

“What we really want them to do is be creative and do stuff they’ve not done before or do more of what they’ve not done before,” Kamper said. “And I think a lot of state and local governments haven’t made that leap yet.” 

Some states and cities are giving out checks to parents or sponsoring artists

That’s not to say every state is sitting on a multibillion-dollar rainy-day fund. For instance, Minnesota has allocated 98% of its nearly $2.8 billion in funding and spent 94% of it already, according to an Insider analysis of Treasury data.

Minnesota has allocated its money toward everything from emergency assistance that can be used for medical expenses and COVID-19-related burials to over $100,000 to get equipment to help maintain a park affected by surging traffic, according to the Treasury’s accounting of projects.

Other states are using their money for everything from hiring artists to maintaining their pools to giving direct cash relief to residents. Baltimore, for instance, has used American Rescue Plan funds to give out guaranteed income to young parents for two years.

“I want Baltimore to be looked at as an innovator, a city that decided to invest in its people — the most in-need folks in the most in-need neighborhoods and families — and be a part of the growing example of why this should be done at the national level,” Mayor Brandon Scott of Baltimore previously told Insider.

Baltimore isn’t alone: Several local governments are considering or have already enacted guaranteed-basic-income pilots with their billions.

In Phoenix, the city is using $1 million of its funds to contract artists for temporary installations in places like parks, community centers, and neighborhood areas that are “not usually defined or programmed as cultural spaces,” per their funding proposal on the Treasury’s site. It’s also awarding $7,500 in grants to select Phoenix artists to help sponsor their work.

In West Virginia, where the grocery store is preparing to open, American Rescue Plan money is going toward ensuring that the store has coolers and other necessary renovations. 

“That one-time fund is going to live way beyond the one payment,” Miller said. “We think it’s going to live on a long time to come. Hopefully, when I’m a senior myself, I can still walk in that store and get served.”

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