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Cleveland City Council will propose its own spending plan for ARPA funds

Councilmembers Kerry McCormack and Jenny Spencer were among the supporters of increasing council's role in ARPA spending plans. [vovidzha / Shutterstock]
American Rescue Plan spelled with Scrabble tiles over $100 bills.

Cleveland City Council plans to hold several meetings this month to draft its own plan for spending the American Rescue Plan Act funding coming to Cleveland. The city has already received half of the $511 million in federal coronavirus relief funding. The rest comes next year.

They’ve set a November 1 deadline to come up with a plan.

During a Monday special meeting, several competing interests sought to set the agenda. Initially, City Council President Kevin Kelley had Jim Gentile from the city's finance department provide some details of plans from Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration.

“The final rules for the grant aren’t out,” Gentile said. “We’re going to reexamine all of these just to make sure we’re right on the eligibility on all of these.”

Under Jackson's plan, the largest amount of money, about $80 million, would go toward community and economic development. Specifically, funds would go toward business loans, home repair and grants for businesses and homeowners, lead abatement and down payment assistance.

There were no specific dollar amounts for any of those categories.

“The general buckets we have talked about in council comes down to food insecurity, public safety, broadband, housing and everything is kind of in there, and we need to put some concrete dollars on what we are doing moving forward,” Kelley said.

But not everyone on council agreed on that point. Councilman Kerry McCormack spearheaded the campaign to hold a special meeting Monday.

“With all due respect to Mr. Gentile, I’m not sure why the mayor’s administration is here today. That’s not the point of this meeting from my perspective,” McCormack said. “The point of this meeting is to establish a roadmap going forward for council to establish independent priorities.”

McCormack shared a plan with other members of council for a series of five meetings that would result in a detailed proposal.

Kelley, before leaving the meeting, proposed a working group made up of the chairs of each of council’s committees that would meet to come up with a spending plan. Councilman Joe Jones floated the idea of a summit. Councilman Basheer Jones criticized all these ideas as taking too much time.

“We were trying to have this conversation months ago,” Jones said. “I have seniors who are living in abject poverty, with roofs that are falling. If these resources can assist right now, that’s the way that I want to move it, for me and my neighborhood.”

Eventually, members agreed to use council’s committees to develop ideas for spending the relief funding and create a working group to put those ideas together into a plan for passage by full council.

So far, council has passed legislation committing $5 million in ARPA funding to the Greater Cleveland Food Bank and $20 million for broadband. Last week, Jackson’s administration submitted legislation proposing spending about $120 million on public safety, building and housing and economic development.

Any ARPA spending would have to be approved by council, no matter who proposed the plan.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.