City Council in first steps of distributing new federal funds

Cleveland City Council held a virtual meeting Monday, Aug. 16, to discuss how the city will use an influx of extra federal funds.

On March 10, 2021, the federal government passed the American Rescue Plan Act, which gave money to cities across the country to help local governments in the aftermath of 2020. Cleveland, being a mid-sized city, received a total of $511,721,580.

Sharon Dumas, the Director of Finance for the city, briefed Council on what the money can be used for and how those funds will be used.

Dumas said the federal government is giving extensive guidelines to her department, and those guidelines are changing every day.

Currently, funds can be used for public health, economic hardship assistance, recovery of lost city revenues and water, sewer & broadband infrastructure.

In the realm of public health, the funds can be used for medical assistance, including vaccine programs, testing and contact tracing, as well as getting support to vulnerable populations who need medical treatment.

The funds can also be used for individual and family living & food assistance, and for small businesses and nonprofits to support financial need in the wake of 2020.

Dumas said half the funds have already been given to the city, back in June, and are being held in an escrow account at KeyBank. The rest will go to the city in June of next year.

Of the money available, $108 million has already been committed to recovering city funds lost during 2020. How the rest of it will be used, however, is still up in the air.

Council members were given the chance to comment and ask questions, and most attending members gave their input.

Ward 8 representative Michael Polensek was one of the first to offer his thoughts.

“We gotta be penny wise, not pound foolish here,” Polensek said.“Nobody has had this opportunity to direct funds in the way we’re getting to here. And I want to do this right.”

Polensek said he’d like to see $5 million go to the Cleveland Food Bank.

Brain Mooney, Ward 11’s representative, said he was surprised at how limited the funds are.

“I thought we’d have a lot more freedom,” Money said. “But I did read...other cities are using these funds for their parks and recreation centers.” He wants to use the funds to help strengthen communities through parks and rec.

Ward 9 representative Kevin Conwell had trouble with his video feed when it was his turn to talk, and used the opportunity to make his pitch.

“We need broadband!’ he shouted through a crackling audio feed. “In order for my neighborhood to grow, we need broadband. We’ve been redlined.”

Councilman Brian Kazy, of Ward 16, asked about individual utility relief. Dumas said that, while funds have not been used for utility assistance by other cities, it is not off the table.

Dumas also noted that public comment has been open as well, garnering over 2,000 responses through an online survey, a residential mailer, and dropboxes at rec centers around the city.

Ultimately, the city will have their list of wants by August 31, the deadline to submit a proposal for using funds to the Treasury Department.

Dumas said this is just the first step of using the funds. Once they finalize what the funds are going toward, the city and city council will begin assigning dollars to programs.

With the city having until the end of 2024 to spend the money, this is sure to have a long-term impact across Cleveland.