116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — As Johnson County-area governments devise how to spend an estimated $55 million in relief funds from the American Rescue Plan, local activists are pushing for the county to create an excluded workers fund to get money to people not covered under federal and state COVID-19 relief.
In a joint entities meeting of Johnson County area governments on Monday, officials said they are soliciting public feedback on how best to distribute the funds.
Johnson County will be receiving $29.36 million from the relief package passed in March, and Iowa City will be receiving $18.33 million. Johnson County’s other city governments are expected to receive close to $8 million, according to the state’s coronavirus website.
Johnson County and Iowa City received half of the funds in May and June, and will receive the other half in around a year. Smaller cities will be receiving their funds from the state.
Representatives from the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition spoke at the meeting urging officials to put the federal dollars toward an excluded workers fund. The coalition is made up of area groups including the Iowa City Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Catholic Worker House and the Iowa Freedom Riders.
They’re asking for $54 million, their estimate of all the federal dollars going to the combined Johnson County governments, to be provided for undocumented immigrants, previously incarcerated people and unemployed workers. They’re also asking the governments to put that money toward hazard pay for low-wage essential workers, affordable housing, and public transportation.
“You have an opportunity to help people who have been hurting and are continuing to suffer even more as we're emerging out of this pandemic,” said David De La Torre, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens Council 308. “The time is now to support our workers.”
$20 million in direct cash assistance for up to 6,000 excluded workers, undocumented immigrants, previously incarcerated people, cash economy workers, and their families.
$20 million in hazard pay bonuses of $1,000 each for up to 20,000 low-wage, public-sector, and essential workers in Johnson County who make less than $15 an hour.
$5 million to purchase 54 new units of affordable and cooperative housing for immigrants, refugees, and previously incarcerated people.
$3 million to expand public transit to late-nights and Sundays.
$3 million for agrarian reform, to return stolen land back to Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color.
$3 million to grassroots, BIPOC-led nonprofits and faith institutions, with annual budgets less than $250,000 and demonstrable bases of community support, who do not primarily rely on government funding.
Geoff Fruin, Iowa City manager, said during the meeting the city is hosting online surveys and providing in-person opportunities for public input, planning to present that data to the council in the fall.
“Our intention is to get in front of our City Council in Iowa City in September with some synopsis of that public input and kind of help them begin that process of prioritizing use of the funds that we’ve received here,” he said.
Pat Heiden, chair of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, said the county has been taking similar measures, with an online survey, public forums and plans to distribute the survey at the Johnson County Fair at the end of July.
Officials also said they were interested in collaborating across governments to distribute the funds.
“We have had conversations with the city of Iowa City and we’ll be able to collaborate on a few things and we’re looking forward to that, and open to any collaboration that we all think is appropriate moving forward,” Heiden said.
Guidance from the U.S. Treasury gives broad discretion for localities to spend the funds, saying the money can be spent to support public health expenditures; address negative economic impacts caused by the pandemic; replace lost public sector revenue; provide premium pay for essential workers; or invest in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.
The Fund Excluded Workers Coalition conducted a survey that it shared with reporters in a news conference before the meeting, and shared with officials soon after. The online survey, distributed in Spanish to undocumented immigrants, asked about the effects of the pandemic. It was answered by more than 146 people throughout Johnson County.
Of those who responded, 83 percent said they or someone in their household lost a job or income since the March 2020. Ninety-four percent said they didn’t receive unemployment insurance during the pandemic, and 20 percent said they are still unemployed.
Eighty-four percent of those who responded said they did not receive a stimulus check, and 83 percent did not receive any check for their children.
“We as a coalition urge everyone here to listen to this information because excluded workers, immigrants and front-line workers of our community have been the backbone of our society," De La Torre said.
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