Jennifer Pratt, community development director for the city of Cedar Rapids, speaks Thursday at a news conference at the downtown public library to discuss funds awarded to the city and Linn County as part of the American Rescue Plan. Cedar Rapids will receiver over $28 million and Linn County will receive $44 million. Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart and Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers are seated at left. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
CEDAR RAPIDS — Wanted: ideas for spending $72 million.
Under the American Rescue plan, the nationwide $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan passed in March by Congress, Cedar Rapids will receive over $28 million and Linn County will receive $44 million. They’re received half the money so far and the other half will arrive next year.
Thursday, city and county officials at a news conference outlined potential uses for the infusion of funding, including providing more housing, developing the workforce, aiding flood protection and creating a new westside library — as well as making up for government revenue lost in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like Iowa City to the south figuring out how best to spend its roughly $18 million under the plan, officials said they’d turn, too, to the public for ideas.
The last round of federal funding was approved to send nearly $1.5 billion to the state. Additionally, the act approved millions for local governments allocated partly according to existing formulas for distributing federal community block grants — and not population alone.
Under the act, while Cedar Rapids is in line to receive about $28 million, three Iowa cities with smaller populations — Waterloo, Sioux City and Davenport — are set to get more. Johnson County will receive more than $29 million, making it among the 10 Iowa counties to receive eight-figure sums.
State Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, (center) talks with state Rep. Art Staed, D- Cedar Rapids, (right) and Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz at a news conference Thursday to discuss funding under the American Rescue Plan. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Eligible spending for the federal aid, according to the bill, falls into three general categories: response to the health emergency or its economic impacts; lost government revenue; and investments in water, sewer or broadband.
Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart said the city will focus on four subcategories: social services, workforce training and education, westside flood protection and lost revenue.
Linn County Supervisor Ben Rogers said possible areas of allocating funding in the county include social services, public health, resiliency efforts, water and sewer and eligible building projects.
“This funding won’t solve all the problems or meet all the needs in our community, but our goal is to make a positive impact where it matters most,” Rogers said.
Projects to be considered also are those that require one-time only funding, in order to avoid new projects that create ongoing operational costs without having an identified funding source, Hart said.
Funding for social services could focus on address housing and food insecurity needs, helping homeowners with recovery from last summer’s derecho and establishing a permanent westside library facility.
“We know that the need for housing is a critical, fundamental need,” Hart said. “Providing housing options takes a significant investment that is now available with this one-time funding.”
Hart added that Cedar Rapids probably would have to put more money into housing than other communities around the country due to the impact of Aug. 10, 2020, derecho.
“The housing component is also based on 6,000 homes and buildings that received damage from the derecho, so that’s a bigger deal for us,” he said.
Hart also said the city is proposing a competitive proposal process, working with Linn County, which will allow for an opportunity to review proposals and select “the most effective combination.”
“The city is also committed to providing the funding needed to complete the work being done through the PATCH program, meeting the immediate exterior work and providing forgivable loans for those homeowners with a financial gap after derecho-related insurance claims have been exhausted,” Hart added.
Another significant project the city and the county are exploring is establishing a new westside library. The westside Ladd Library operates in leased space, so the goal would be to open a permanent library in a new location.
“The Ladd Library already serves as a critical hub of services for the neighborhood and this was especially highlighted after the derecho,” Hart said. “A permanent location with expanded space would provide opportunities for increased services and long-term stability for that location.”
On Sept. 1, 2020, after the derecho struck Cedar Rapids, the reflection of people waiting in line is seen in the window of the Ladd Library with the inspiration “CR Strong” printed on it at a Iowa Department of Human Services disaster food assistance application site at the library parking lot in southwest Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
The city also will be looking at investing in workforce development training for underrepresented residents, as well as aiding construction of the permanent flood control system on the west side of the Cedar River — which is not being helped with Army Corps of Engineers funding like on the east bank. Building the flood control system will take years, but additional funding would speed it up, Hart said.
“Resident surveys have consistently demonstrated that flood protection is a top concern,” he said.
Hart added that some of the federal funds will be used to reimburse revenues lost in city operations due to the pandemic. “We are also looking for ways to assist nonprofits impacted by the decrease in the hotel/motel tax allocations,” he said.
More information about funding amounts and the specifics of programs will be determined and presented at a City Council meeting in late July or early August, Hart said.
Rogers said while Linn County has not finalized a timeline on spending its funds, a working group of county employees across various departments began meeting in May to develop guidelines for supervisors to use in creating a framework to distribute funds.
In addition, the county will seek public input. Plans for future meetings will be announced, Rogers said.
“We will hold meetings in each of our districts and create an online survey tool that will allow citizens to tell us where funding should go,” Rogers said. “These are substantial one-time funds that can make a tremendous impact on quality of life in our community and we want people to be aware that Cedar Rapids and Linn County have these resources.”
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