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How Will Phoenix City Council Spend 'Once In A Lifetime' Money?

Published: Wednesday, April 28, 2021 - 7:07am

Childcare, rent and utility assistance and small business grants are common themes among some Phoenix council members when it comes to spending federal funds.

Across Arizona, cities and towns are expected to get more than a billion dollars from the American Rescue Plan, the economic stimulus package President Biden signed into law last month.

Arizona’s largest city expects to get two payments totaling $416 million. During a meeting Tuesday, council members discussed spending options. Mayor Kate Gallego and Councilwomen Yassamin Ansari and Betty Guardado want to support working parents. 

Guardado said child care is too expensive for many people: "Folks would have to put at least a fourth of their paycheck into child care and then the rest into paying their rent and then we think about how is it that people become homeless and why we have a housing crisis here in the city.”

Funding for homeless services, utility and rent assistance and small business grants are also being considered — they’re all areas the council spent a significant amount of its previous $293 million coronavirus relief funds.

Vice Mayor Carlos Garcia said Phoenix should reconsider using a first come, first served process: “It benefits a lot of the folks that already know systems, that know how to get to things and so I think we should look for more equitable ways, whether it’s lottery systems or other ways in which we could better distribute resources or choose who gets these things.”

Councilman Sal DiCiccio wants to see money go toward paying down the city’s pension obligations and fixing roads. He also opposed any funds going to “corporate welfare”.

The American Rescue Plan is a $1.9 trillion bill meant to speed up the nation’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and recession. It’s money that Phoenix did not see coming until Congress approved the bill last month and President Biden signed it into law.

“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity — we hope — to make smart, strategic investments and to help our city recover from the challenges we have been facing,” said Gallego.

Final rules are still being worked out, but current guidance from the federal government says cities can help people and organizations economically suffering from COVID-19, use it to cover pandemic costs related to essential public workers, and make investments in water, sewer or broadband infrastructure. By May 11, the federal government should issue final spending guidelines. The City Council could vote on a detailed funding plan soon after.

Phoenix expects its first $208 million payment in May or June with the second $208 million allocation one year later. The money can be used to cover appropriate expenses between March 3, 2021 and December 31, 2024.

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