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Ohio received billions in ARPA funds. Where is it going?

 The cupola of the Ohio Statehouse, October 2022
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio has until the end of the year to make final decisions on how to spend the money.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) gave the state more than $5.4 billion in the State Fiscal Recovery Fund to help Ohio’s economy bounce back from the COVID pandemic. Billions more went to individual local city and county governments.

Tally it all together, and Ohio received almost $11 billion in state and local fiscal recovery funds.

The Ohio Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Ohio’s Futurehave been trackingwhere the money has gone. The biggest allocation, by far, went to Ohio’s unemployment compensation fund. Water infrastructure, the healthcare workforce and public safety initiatives also received large investments.

Advocates for Ohio’s Future interim director Sarah Hudacek said the large pots of money were unprecedented opportunities for Ohio’s communities.

“We've seen public health investments, education, rent and utility assistance,” Hudacek said. “So, I do think that it has had the desired effect of really transforming a lot of what these communities can invest in, at the local level.”

Big investments

Around a fifth of the state recovery fiscal fund has been earmarked for water and sewer improvement grants. Nearly $1.2 billion will go to local governments across the state to improve access to clean drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

Another priority was rebuilding the healthcare workforce, with more than $350 million going toward to cover workforce expenses for Medicaid providers in the Nursing Facility Workforce Relief Program.

The state also invested $500 million in assisting communities in Appalachian Ohio. Appalachia Community Grants will help rehabilitate downtown Athens, expand tourism in southeast Ohio and provide workforce training for at-risk youth, among other investments.

A graph chart shows allocations of state fiscal recovery funds, with unemployment compensation topping the list.
Ohio Poverty Law Center
State Fiscal Recovery Fund helped fund unemployment compensations, water and sewer projects and health care recovery.

Director of the Ohio Poverty Law Center Susan Jagers said, while the state made some very wise investments, she believed there were some missed opportunities. Jager said she wished there was more of an investment in affordable housing.

Less than 1% of the funds went toward housing needs, according to the ARPA tracker.

“I think that is one of the biggest needs the state has,” Jagers said, “especially with the continued investments in workforce development. … With some big new employers coming to Ohio, we really are seeing an affordable housing crisis.”

Common threads

Ohio received its first ARPA payment in May of 2021. Since then, several pieces of legislation have earmarked the funds for everything from arts funding to refugee legal services. Jagers said, in the last couple of years, the General Assembly has received public input on Ohioans’ priorities.

“There were opportunities for advocates to meet with lawmakers to testify before committees, and work with different legislative committees on priority spending for this money,” she said.

On the local level, many Ohio cities and counties allocated their money in similar ways. Hudacek said Ohio’s largest metros used the funds to keep their city services running during the initial impact of the pandemic. Once their budgets were stabilized, they began looking toward infrastructure.

For example, Hamilton, Summit and Montgomery counties used local fiscal recovery funds as an opportunity to expand broadband. Youngstown, Cleveland and Toledo allocated large portions toward neighborhood revitalization.

“We've seen a really good balance among localities investing in some long-term infrastructure projects, which can include water and sewer, road infrastructure and bridges, parks and trails,” Hudacek said.

Next steps

While all of the funding has been designated for certain uses, like transportation or tourism, around half of the state’s money still hasn’t been spent.

Jagers said her organization will monitor that money as it goes out to Ohio communities. The funding can be reappropriated until the end of this year. The state has until the end of 2026 to ensure those dollars make it into those communities.

Until that happens, Jagers said it’s hard to know how effective the investments have been in countering the economic impacts of the pandemic. It’s not yet clear whether those hardest hit by the pandemic got the funds they need to recover, she said.

“I hope that, as adjustments can be made, the lawmakers or decision-makers at the community level will continue to look for the areas of the community or the state that are still not fully recovered from the pandemic,” Jagers said.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.