One Year Later: American Rescue Plan provides hope for Southerners continuing to face challenging pandemic impacts

ATLANTA – The Southern Economic Advancement Project (SEAP) announced new findings from its American Rescue Plan (ARP) Community Needs survey on Tuesday in its latest report, Two years into the pandemic, Southern families’ struggle with housing weighs heavy as lawmakers begin ARP spending plans

One year after ARP’s passing, Southern elected officials continue blueprinting spending plans for their communities’ share of the unprecedented recovery funds. As Southern families continue to bear the pandemic’s economic impacts, some trends are beginning to emerge, or deepen,  – including the vital need and demand for affordable housing and reliable internet access. 

SEAP began collecting responses for its Community Needs survey in November 2021, sharing it through the Provider’s app, targeting food-insecure households, with pilots in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Of the more than 3500 respondents, 55 percent say their community’s heaviest challenge, currently, is access to affordable housing. 

“A little over two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic not only exacerbated challenges within Southern communities but also brought on new ones – making it almost impossible for families to recover on their own,” said Sarah Beth Gehl, SEAP’s Executive Director. “We hope to see Southern leaders spending the American Rescue Plan funds in an equitable way that lightens the burdens and challenges reported by residents in our survey.”

Other top priorities include:

  • 43% – Affordable and Reliable Utilities (water/electricity/etc.)
  • 40% – Economic Opportunity (new jobs/competitive wages/job skills training/etc.)
  • 33% – Debt (Student loans/home/etc)
  • 26% – Food (access/affordability/etc.)
  • 17% – Small Business Support
  • 15% – Transportation (public transit/roads/etc.)
  • 14% – Broadband/Internet (reliability/affordability/etc.)

By collecting this data on public needs and ideas, the survey aims to give local leaders insight into their community’s pandemic experiences so they may readily draft spending plans, equitably,  based on these reflections – and responses like, “If the funds [are] spent towards affordable homes, there wouldn’t be [many] people seeking help. The minimum wage went up, but that’s not enough for a single parent who has to pay $1,500 for a two-bedroom, two-bath and has lights and gas separate.”

In conjunction with learning where community members want recovery funds spent, SEAP’s ARP Local Funds Trackers follows where local leaders are actually spending funds. Reviewing more than 120 cities with populations greater than 20,000, the first dataset from the tracker includes spending plans for 54 cities throughout Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi – showing that of the $515 million allocated to these cities, leaders have only directed $42 million towards housing thus far.

However, that does not mean local leaders are not planning to spend more on housing. It simply means they have not completed spending plans. The tracker shows only 15 percent of cities (including city data from NC and WA) have planned for their total allocations. 

Officials have until the end of calendar-year 2024 to make spending decisions and until the end of 2026 to spend. SEAP will continue tracking ARP and pushing collected data to the public.

The ARP Community Needs survey is still live and continues to collect responses across the Southern states; consider adding your voice to the table by taking the 5-minute anonymous survey. To connect with SEAP’s Data Director, please email mfilippelli@rooseveltinstitute.org.

For more information, community members, city leaders, and activist organizations can contact SEAP’s ARP Assistance Team at southstrong@rooseveltinstitute.org. To check out the complete toolkit, please visit https://theseap.org/arp-toolkit-2/.

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