SPARTANBURG — Over the next three years, the City of Spartanburg plans to use $16.5 million in American Rescue Plan funding to address needs in housing, education and economic mobility.
The funding is part of a $1.9 trillion economic recovery package approved by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in March to offer assistance to individuals and communities hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the $1.9 trillion, $362 billion was allocated to state and local governments to provide relief and assistance for economic recovery.
City Manager Chris Story said during a City Council meeting held Sept. 13 that half of the city's share has been received and discussions will be held with public input on how the funds might be used.
"Like every other city, we are operating on intermediate guidelines released in June," Story said.
Story said the funding goals include assisting historically disadvantaged populations and those not historically disadvantaged but hardest hit by the pandemic. The federal guidelines require the city to measure and quantify the performance of the dollars spent by documenting outcomes. Story said the city will work with 10 to 11 organizations to help determine a plan for how the funds will be allocated.
"We have a lot of work to do as a community to understand this landscape and how we want to pursue it but what is immediately before us as community partners are some direct allocations to local governments, and of course ours to make decisions about as a community," Story said.
Story provided City Council with goals to consider. He suggested the funds could be used to increase economic mobility, provide safe housing, increase educational attainment and improve health for area residents.
"These funds are directly in your control and $16.5 million will be deployed over the next three years as you see fit," Story said.
City Councilwoman Ruth Littlejohn asked for reassurance that funds would be tracked on how they are allocated, especially in historically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Story's response was the city will be required to provide quarterly reports to the federal government on how the funds are used.
On Sept. 14, City Councilman Jamie Fulmer said he believes it is important the effort be a collaborative with community partners.
"This represents a unique opportunity to have a long term impact," Fulmer said. "My thought is that it must be sustainable and must match one-time expenses. We can't create a situation allocating money that has a legacy expense component tied to it because it would impact our operating budget. It has to be very methodical and data driven and make sure we keep focused on getting public input and seek input on plans."
City Councilman Jerome Rice told The Post and Courier the funds could be used to address housing needs and also possibly be used toward a redesign of Morgan Square. West Main Street near the square has been closed to vehicle traffic since early 2020. The street closure was implemented to create a pedestrian zone for outdoor dining. City Council agreed in August to extend the street closure to vehicles for another 12 months. City leaders have suggested over the next year discussions could be held to help reimagine the design of the square to optimize economic impact.
Rice acknowledged discussions on how the funds will be used will require community effort.
"We continue to wait for all the guidelines coming down from the federal government," Rice said. "I think some of the funds will be used on housing in Spartanburg in some areas in desperate need of a facelift."
City Councilwoman Meghan Smith said during the meeting federal funds provided will cover one-time expenses since they will not be recurring. She encouraged organizations to provide the city with information on what projects and services that qualify might benefit from the American Rescue Plan funding.