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How are Coralville and North Liberty spending ARPA dollars?
Mayors highlight ‘historic’ impact pandemic relief dollars
NORTH LIBERTY — The North Liberty Community Pantry has seen the greatest need in recent months of the organization’s 37 years of helping residents.
“The last six months have been every month over month just record breaking,” executive director Kaila Rome said, adding that the pantry saw the greatest need so far in October.
Last month, the pantry helped 420 families and gave out 44,810 pounds of food, which is nearly double when compared with October 2020 when 250 families were helped and 27,000 pounds of food were given out.
The increased costs of food, housing, gas and utilities coupled with the end of expanded food assistance benefits are among the reasons the pantry is seeing a rise families it serves, Rome said.
The pantry earlier this year received $100,000 in pandemic relief funds from the city of North Liberty. The funds allowed the pantry to prepare for the increased need by keeping its shelves stocked, hiring additional staff and taking care of building repairs.
“We have just been so grateful for those ARPA funds to just have that money available to help fill the shelves when the need has gone up,” Rome said. “I don't know how we would have been able to make it the last couple of months without those funds.”
The North Liberty Community Pantry is among the organizations to receive American Rescue Plan Act dollars. North Liberty received $2.9 million, and the City Council continues to allocate these dollars.
Local governments in Eastern Iowa — and throughout the country — were given a “historic” opportunity to invest in their communities through the American Rescue Plan Act. “All of our communities have this unique opportunity to use these dollars to do good in our communities,” North Liberty Mayor Chris Hoffman said.
Johnson County is funding 37 projects with $29.3 million in federal pandemic relief funds, including child care initiatives, affordable housing and the direct assistance program, which provided checks to low-income residents negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including residents excluded from federal stimulus. Iowa City received $18.3 million and will fund both emergent and strategic needs, including Forest View relocation and expanding mobile crisis outreach services.
Coralville has allocated its $3.5 million to replacing lost revenue, supporting youth mental health, affordable housing and investing in the Coralville Community Food Pantry, among other initiatives.
Together, that is over $50 million being invested in Johnson County.
“It is historic,” Coralville Mayor Meghann Foster said. “ … I get very excited when I think about the cumulative impact of those dollars in our community.”
The North Liberty City Council has formally approved just less than $1 million in projects and has tentatively allocated the remaining $1.9 million. The council’s goal was to fund projects and organizations that will directly impact North Liberty residents.
Most recently, the council allocated $400,000 for the Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County to pursue an affordable housing project in North Liberty. The council unanimously approved moving forward with the partnership Nov. 22 after hearing potential options Oct. 11.
The council wants to pursue a mixed income rental housing project that would include units with rent restrictions. The city plans to recruit a developer and submit a Low Income Housing Tax Credit application to the state.
“This is just a starting point for what could be an affordable housing project in the city,” Hoffman said.
Ellen McCabe, executive director of the Housing Trust Fund, told the council at its October work session that the money “makes a statement” that the city is committed to the project.
Coralville is using the majority of its dollars — $2.7 million — to replace city revenue lost during the pandemic. The remaining $600,000 has been allocated to various projects and organizations.
Foster, the mayor, said the council had to find a balance between offsetting revenue losses and making investments to help address other impacts of the pandemic. The city’s hotel and motel tax revenue was significantly impacted.
City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said it was a hard decision.
“To be able to continue to do things that the community and the city needs to do, we have to have that funding, and we didn't want to come out of COVID in worse shape financially than when we went into it,” Hayworth said.
The first goal, Foster said, was to preserve the city’s budget so city services and programs wouldn’t be impacted. After that, the discussion focused on how the remaining $600,000 could be allocated to help residents most impacted by the pandemic.
One project Foster is excited about is United Action for Youth working with students at Northwest Junior High.
United Action for Youth was allocated $48,000 toward staffing at the school for programming that focuses on mental health and restorative practices. This work started at the beginning of the current 2022-23 school year.
The funds also will be used to train city staff at the Coralville Recreation Center on trauma-informed response.
The overall goal is to support young people and their families in Coralville, said Talia Meidlinger, executive director of United Action for Youth. The funding is being used to support the mental, physical and emotional health of students, as well as give students a place to be seen and heard, Meidlinger said.
The need for this came out of council discussions following a fight at the school earlier this year, Foster said.
“One of the things that we learned from that is that there were a lot of kids in our community that are struggling with the impacts of the pandemic, the trauma,” Foster said.
Meidlinger said she is grateful for the funding, which is in line with the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on protecting youth mental health. The report from last year outlines increasing funding for school-based mental health programs and investing in evidence-based social and emotional learning, Meidlinger said.
“Our community members are desperate for immediate interventions, and we appreciate the opportunity to work with the city of Coralville to directly address the needs in our community,” Meidlinger said.
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