CAPITALT REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Cities finally have in hand guidance from the federal government on how to apply for American Rescue Plan money and how they’ll be allowed to spend it. The American Rescue Plan presents a rare opportunity, since the funding is on its way directly to the cities themselves, rather than to the states to be allocated to municipalities. It’s a change Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says she and her fellow mayors advocated for strongly.
“We believe that we are the closest to our residents, we understand their needs. The needs of the neighborhoods of Albany are very different than the needs of the neighborhoods even in other cities in New York,” Sheehan explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton. “We need for mayors to have the flexibility to invest these funds as the community that they are representing sees the need.”
Sheehan says the city already applied for its first installment of $80.7 million designated by the federal COVID relief program. All allocations will be split between two payments in 2021 and 2022.
The interim guidance is open to public comment before it is finalized, but it is still strict on where money can be spent: health, education and workforce, housing and transportation, small business support, and finally tourism, the arts and hospitality. Sheehan is hopeful schedules can be coordinated for Albany’s COVID Recovery Task Force to meet again next week to hear allocation suggestions. She also adds there will be multiple survey opportunities coming for residents to add their voices.
“This is for our residents, the people who live here, and so we want to ensure that we’re doing all that we can to listen to them,” says Mayor Sheehan.
Among the diverse voices on the more than 40 member task force team is Angelo Maddox, a small business owner and active youth speaker.
“I look at myself as being in the trenches,” he says. “I provide a unique perspective to this, to what I call the ‘Dream Team’, because there’s a lot of great minds on this task force and opinions coming from everywhere.”
“Just by the mere fact that they bringing so many diverse voices and perspectives to the table to allocate these funds certainly presents an opportunity for a true, authentic agenda to bring about active change and actually put the funding where it needs to go,” he goes on to say.
He says he plans to share the real voice of people in the community and hold his fellow talks force members accountable.
“Make sure that the funding is not going to bigger companies that don’t really need it. We have to get this funding to the areas that need it the most, the businesses that are struggling, the communities that are struggling,” Maddox says. “Everybody has to be held accountable for where this funding goes. I think that’s the biggest factor of it all, that when these funds go out, we can have accountability to the sources that they are going to and make sure even after the funds are allocated, that they are being used in the right areas and we are getting the results.”
Among his list of needed areas for COVID support are fellow small businesses, particularly those that are minority-owned, like his own Fresh and Fly Clothing in downtown Albany. Mayor Sheehan says she also shares concerns for small businesses and equity.
“We have to go beyond just being start ups. We have to have funding so that we can make sure those businesses are sustained for years to come so that they become staples,” Maddox explains.
“Focus on small businesses that weren’t able to access PPP money, those small arts organizations that weren’t necessarily able to access the Save Our Stages money,” Sheehan says.
Sheehan further adds the interim guidance does allow for funding to be spent on regional improvement to eliminate racial disparities in access to healthcare and services.
“Looking at our neighborhoods that are predominantly people of color where we had a huge disproportionate impact of COVID. More people getting sick, fewer people getting access to the vaccine. What can we do to strengthen those neighborhoods?” Sheehan explains.
“Not everybody started from the same starting line and this is an opportunity for us to look at the impacts of decades of structural racism in this country and in the city and build back very intentionally strengthening the neighborhoods that need it the most,” she says further.
“This funding would allow them to be more sustainable and build a foundation for themselves if the funding goes to the right places, and that’s what equity is all about,” Maddox agrees.
Maddox is also known in the Albany community for using his degree in psychology to mentor local youth and speak for outreach programs across the city. He says he hopes when the COVID Recovery Task Force meets again, he can voice his concerns for the way the pandemic has affected young minds and mental health.
“The pandemic has traumatized a lot of youth in a lot of different ways, and they’re eager to socialize, be back amongst their peers, so that they can enjoy life as a youth,” Maddox says. “We want to get some youth funding or some funding towards youth programs that will keep our youth out of the streets.”
Over in Troy, Mayor Patrick Madden says the city is still evaluating who would be best to sit on a task force and distribute its approximately $45.6 million in expected funding. Madden says his administration feels it would be more appropriate to wait until the federal guidance is finalized before making plans.
However, he does have ideas on where to start based on shortfalls in the Troy budget and he says conversations with locals.
“Our overall objective obviously first is to make the city whole from money the city lost or spent during COVID, and then we will be working with trying to identify the needs of the community,” Madden explains.
He says while he shares concerns for small businesses and youth impact, he finds it premature to expect how much of the American Rescue Plan funding will be spent in any one area.
“It’s important to keep in mind that there are a variety of other programs that are available, so we don’t want to duplicate what those programs are already funding, unless we find those programs are woefully in adequate. This is not the only money that can be brought to bear on COVID relief,” Madden explains.
He and Mayor Sheehan also share similar concerns on what happens when temporary moratoriums run out. New York’s halt on evictions has been extended to August; however, as so many executive orders receive month-to-month extensions, there’s no telling when they will officially end.
“There’s a lot of money that’s out there for eviction prevention, but we don’t know whether or not it’s actually getting into the hands of tenants and landlords. We are going to be working with our landlords and with our tenants to understand exactly where the gaps are,” Sheehan says.
“Right now, they are protected because they can’t be evicted in New York State for nonpayment, but at some point that doorway is going to open and we want to avoid, to a degree possible, a mass eviction,” Madden adds.