Flint, MI– About forty residents piled into a conference room at the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village on Tuesday night to discuss ways to spend the incoming $94.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

In March of 2021, the city learned that it would be receiving the funding as part of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package intended to aid the country in recovering from the pandemic. 

The money has specific eligible uses, but local government officials want to hear from Flint residents about what their priorities are. Both the Flint City Council and  Mayor Sheldon Neeley have been hosting forums to hear from residents about those priorities and answer questions. 

On Feb. 22, Neeley hosted the administration’s second public input forum of the month.

Residents told the administration what they hoped to see the money spent on. Youth programming, blight, and assistance for Flint’s population with disabilities were just a few of the ideas mentioned. Residents also got to learn about more of the details of how the ARPA funds can be spent, and what the timeline for the process looks like.

Here’s how you can send your questions
and comments to the city about ARPA funds
• Send an email to input@cityofflint.com
• Mail comments to: City of Flint Budget Input, 1101
S. Saginaw St. Room 203, Flint, Michigan  48502
• Write comments and drop them off at Flint City Hall
in the red drop box in front of the City Hall entrance.
• Call (810) 237-2000. All callers will be asked to leave a
message with their comments, which will be transcribed
and included in reports with other submitted comments.

Chief Financial Officer Robert Widigan and Brian Jarzynski, the executive director of the city’s compliance firm Ernst & Young, gave presentations at the meeting, and answered questions along the way.

Jarzynski told the attendees that in addition to their compliance and reporting work, the compliance firm would also be looking to find other dollars available for projects so the city can make the most of these funds which are primarily for  “recovery.” 

“The spirit of the American rescue plan is … really about recovery, recovery from the pandemic,” he said. “That’s the baseline of what those dollars were brought forward for.”

After the presentation, residents shared how they thought the funding should be spent. 

Dorothy King said she would like to see funds go to “clean up downtown,” specifically to fix the bricks. 

“I’m so sick of these bricks … people are hurting themselves on those bricks down there,” she said. “Please Flint, let’s think about getting those bricks. Smooth it out. Do something better.”

James Wardlow, president of the St. John Street Historical Committee, said his group has identified a property that they would like to develop into a memorial park.

“We’re looking for all the funding we can get because we’ve got big plans,” he said. “There’s a lot of history in the St. John Street community.”

Winston Stoody, executive director of Gear Up 2 Lead, spoke during a community forum hosted by Mayor Sheldon Neeley to discuss the American Rescue Plan Act funds on Feb. 22, 2022. (Amy Diaz | Flint Beat)

Winston Stoody, the executive director of Gear Up 2 Lead, said he would like to see some funding go towards his alternative school program based in SBEV.

“What I want to talk about is the 4,000 16- to 21-year-olds that are what we call ‘disconnected’ or ‘opportunity youth.’ These are youths that are not in school and not employed,” Stoody said.

He said a lot of those youths were “recently disconnected because of the pandemic.”

“They need opportunities to learn, to learn life skills, get their high school diploma, and work experiences,” Stoody said. Specifically, he said the city needs to “build a bridge,” from these youths to the “over 500,000 skilled trade jobs available in Michigan in the next five years.” He proposed a re-engagement center to do that. 

Multiple speakers talked about programs for the youth– violence prevention, education, and community engagement. 

Willie Buford said he would like to see the city “prioritize our youth.”

“We know that idle time is the devil’s playground, and these kids are out here having their fill at it,” he said. “So when it comes to making those decisions, let’s prioritize our future.”

Luke Zelley, the president of the Disability Network in Flint, said he would like to see the city prioritize applicants who are keeping equity and accessibility in mind, and encourage disability organizations to apply for funding. 

“Flint has a large population of folks with disabilities … and we have an unprecedented number now because of the water crisis and because of the pandemic,” Zelley said. 

Willie Buford speaks during a community forum hosted by Mayor Sheldon Neeley to discuss the American Rescue Plan Act funds on Feb. 22, 2022. (Amy Diaz | Flint Beat)

Widigan provided a timeline of how the process has gone so far, and what residents can expect next. Here is a breakdown of what he said:

April 2021: Widigan said this was when the city released an online survey to gauge early interest from residents in the ARPA fund spending priorities. 

May 2021: The city received its first $47.3 million payment of the funds. Widigan said the second half of the money is coming in May of this year. 

Aug. 2021: The city hosted nine ward tours to get input from the community about spending priorities and ideas. 

Jan. 2022: Flint City Council approved  a one-year contract with a compliance firm to help ensure the rest of the spending is done correctly. 

Feb. 2022: Flint City Council passed two resolutions to spend about $3 million of the funds giving premium pay to certain essential workers. The city also “updated and refreshed” the online survey. 

Widigan explained that with the input from the survey, and the ward tours, the administration has begun to identify funding priorities which can be found here. Widigan called it a “living document” and said that those categories can change. 

Residents listen during a community forum hosted by Mayor Sheldon Neeley to discuss the American Rescue Plan Act funds on Feb. 22, 2022. (Amy Diaz | Flint Beat)

Widigan also identified what the next steps in the process will look like: 

  1. Complete the public input sessions– both the mayor’s sessions and those hosted by the council. Later in the meeting, Widigan said this would take about 30 days.
  2. Process the community input from the surveys and forums. Widigan later said this would take about 15 days. 
  3. Conduct a “joint public review session” with the council to go over what the council heard from the public and what the administration heard from the public.
  4. Finalize and present the recovery plan and budget. There has to be a plan for the allocation of the funds by Dec. 31, 2024. 
  5. Announce grant funding opportunities, eligibility requirements, and application instructions. 
  6. Initiate the projects. Widigan said they would likely commence funding in May of 2022.
  7. Monitor the progress and publicly report on the progress of those projects. The compliance firm will be doing this work. The funding must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026. 

Jarzynski said there were four main components for the funds: responding to the public health emergency, giving premium pay to eligible workers, providing government services that may have “fell off” during the pandemic, and infrastructure. He also gave examples of spending uses for seven categories: 

  1. Improve public health

Jarznyski said this category could deal with traditional pandemic-related issues, like offering health education, setting up a vaccination center, and upgrading health facilities. But, this could also be used to address crime and violence. He gave the examples of setting up youth intervention programs, and police engagement initiatives related to gun violence. 

  1. Negative economic impacts

Jarzynski said this could be assistance to small businesses, emergency housing assistance programs, and providing child care to allow people to get back into the workforce. 

  1. Services to disproportionately impacted communities

Jarzynski said this for communities that have been “highly hit by the pandemic.” He explained that this would be for high unemployment communities, but also low-income communities. He said projects under this category could be directed toward blight elimination, creating green spaces, demolitions, and building new houses to give “access to folks to cleaner environments.”

  1. Premium pay

Jarzynski said this could be more than just first responders, and that there is eligibility for other workers  to receive premium pay. 

  1. Water, sewer, and broadband

Jarzynski didn’t go into detail on this category, but mentioned the compliance firm may be able to find other sources of money to fulfill projects related to infrastructure.

  1. Public sector revenue loss

Jarzynski said that while municipalities can’t just use the funds to pay pension plans and fill holes in their budgets, they can use some of the funds to replace government services lost as a result. He said there is a little more leniency with this category, and less reporting required.

  1. Administrative expenses

Jarzynski said this is an allowance for the expenses related to reporting and documenting project progress and following the compliance rules. 

Mayor Sheldon Neeley hosted a community forum to discuss the American Rescue Plan Act funds on Feb. 22, 2022. (Amy Diaz | Flint Beat)

Neeley urged attendees to consider seven guiding principles as they make their suggestions:

  1. Equality. Neeley said the recovery plan should reflect all voices, and seek to “reduce racial and other disparities.”
  2. Responsibility. He said the plan should lay out a foundation for “lasting change,” but not create “future financial burdens.”
  3. Sustainability. Neeley said the plan should combat environmental injustice.
  4. Compliance. He said the city must ensure the funding is spent on eligible uses.
  5. Transformation. “The projects we fund should produce outcomes that make measurable differences in people’s lives,” Neeley said.
  6. Transparency. Neeley said they plan to make decisions openly.
  7. Leveraging. Neeley said their plan should prioritize finding other funding streams in addition to ARPA dollars. 

The next ARPA fund meeting hosted by the mayor will be held on Thursday, March 3 at the Accelerated Learning Academy from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. 

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...