116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County hosted its first public forum on American Rescue Plan funding Wednesday night, sharing information about eligible uses as the county seeks input from the public about where funds should go.
The county also launched its online survey Wednesday, allowing residents to give their input.
The county will receive $44 million in American Rescue Plan funding over the next two years. The county has already received its first installment of $22 million and will receive the other half in 2022. The deadline to spend the money is Dec. 31, 2026.
The county’s survey asks residents to rank items in several different areas: American Rescue Plan allowable funding categories; COVID-19 public health emergency; COVID-19 negative economic impacts; and water, sewer and broadband subcategories. The survey also has an option for residents to propose specific ideas.
“My ultimate goal is that we’re able to spend these funds for the betterment of the public,” Supervisor Stacey Walker said. “It is public money for the public good.”
Darrin Gage, director of policy and administration, explained the different eligibility categories that are included in the online survey.
He said the government services category allows governments to use money to make up for lost revenue. The county lost about $7 million, as compared to the most recent pre-COVID fiscal year.
He also noted ineligible uses, such as deposits into pension funds, offsetting a reduction in tax revenue, paying off debt, establishing “rainy day reserve funds” and matching funds for other federal programs.
Gage said funding will begin to roll out this fall.
At the forum, residents expressed concern about housing, child care and climate.
Coe College student Harold Walehwa said the county and its residents must take notice of housing issues.
“After the one-year anniversary of derecho, we still have the housing issue and it disproportionately affects people of color,” Walehwa said.
Linn County Director of Community Outreach and Assistance Ashley Balius also stressed the importance of using funding to address housing issues.
On Monday, the county will launch its rental assistance program with $5.3 million in federal assistance, which can provide up to 18 months of rent and utility assistance for eligible applicants.
Those who demonstrate housing instability, unemployment or can demonstrate financial hardship since March 2020 may be eligible. Those with a pending eviction or utility shutoff will be prioritized, Balius said.
Balius said the county’s recorded homeless population pre-pandemic stayed fairly consistent between 10 and 35 people. As of last month, that population has more than doubled to 76.
She added that one in seven Linn County renters are currently behind on rent payments.
The American Rescue Plan Act also includes a focus on equity-focused services as the pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color, including in Linn County.
County Sustainability Manager Tamara Marcus said that while less than 6 percent of the county population is Black, over 30 percent of the county’s total positive COVID-19 cases have been among Black people.
Marcus added that while 13 percent of renters in the county are Black, 35 percent of rent assistance seekers are Black.
“Since my time in office, I’ve never been a part of a government conversation that has talked so much about equity,” Walker said. “You can count on it that Linn County will deliver for the people. We’ve never been this close to everyone understanding equity and the crises before us. These priorities are real.”
The other issue Balius stressed was the lack of child care.
“Pre-pandemic, Linn County needed an additional 14,840 (child care) slots to adequately serve the county families,” Balius said.
Balius said that at least 36 child care providers closed during the pandemic. The reasons cited were reduced capacity, high costs of personal protective equipment, lack of staff and derecho damages.
Wednesday night’s forum was the first of at least three. The next will be Aug. 23 in the county’s District 2, which includes the northeast side of Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha and Robins. There also will be a forum in the future in District 3, which includes Marion and rural areas of the county.
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