My view

ARPA funds meant for pandemic relief

By MARTHA SCOPPA
Posted 9/7/21

This year Sullivan County received over $7 million in state and local Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Funds (FRF), a part of the federally funded American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) response to the …

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My view

ARPA funds meant for pandemic relief

Posted

This year Sullivan County received over $7 million in state and local Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Funds (FRF), a part of the federally funded American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) response to the coronavirus pandemic. In 2022, the county will receive an additional $7 million.

ARPA legislation clearly defines eligible uses for FRF funds in the following way:

“To respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality;

To respond to workers performing essential work during the COVID-19 public health emergency by providing premium pay to eligible workers;

For the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVD-19 public health emergency relative to revenues collected in the most recent full fiscal year prior to the emergency; and

  • To make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure.”

In published letters to the editor and public comments to the Sullivan County Legislature, citizens like me have identified multiple appropriate uses for $7 million in FRF funds that satisfy both the letter and spirit of ARPA. These, all exacerbated by COVID-19,  include:

  • Mental health and addiction services
  • Domestic abuse and violence services
  • Filling vacant county positions  
  • Housing crisis (owners, renters, and landlords)
  • Economic disruption (small businesses)
  • Food insecurity
  • Vaccination awareness and clinics

In addition, a survey in May was completed by 371 county residents. The three top priorities they listed for FRF spending are mental health workers, premium pay, and opioid treatment.

But what did the Sullivan County Legislature decide to do with the FRF funds? Despite a resurgence of COVID-19, a dismally low county health ranking, and with dwindling public and private services for mental health and addiction treatment, the legislature chose to spend $7 million on:

  • Sullivan County Department of Public Works’ road paving program
  • Sullivan County Community College’s capital improvement for new boilers and heating system.

With their unanimous decision on August 19, the nine county legislators abandoned any commitment to the health and well-being of Sullivan County citizens.

In addition, the legislature has not truly recognized our essential workers “for the elevated health risks they have faced and continue to face during the public health emergency,” as described by FRF.  Although the county recently gave premium pay to 696 essential workers, the amount was a paltry $500 (taxed) and came from the county contingent fund. The legislature had the opportunity to be more generous to our local heroes by using FRF monies. Premium pay of $2,500, for example, would have used under 25 percent of the $7 million.  

I hope to be very clear. The Sullivan County Legislature has chosen to allocate $7 million FRF funds to a road paving program and a boiler/heating system, both already the subjects of budget debates and both already eligible for bonding. By making this decision, they have ignored all the citizens of Sullivan County negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including those who died.

Our legislators have abandoned businesses and individuals. They have abandoned the small army of dedicated individuals who put their lives on the line to protect the county. And they have abandoned our county’s most vulnerable.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge.”

Martha Scoppa lives in Liberty, NY and occasionally speaks in public comment at legislative meetings.

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