American Rescue Plan Spending: Recommended Guiding Principles

Signed into law on March 11, 2021, The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”) provides $350 billion in additional funding for state and local governments. Please click here for GFOA’s analysis of ARPA. The state funding portion is approximately $195 billion with $25.5 billion distributed equally among the 50 states and the District of Columbia and the remaining amount distributed according to a formula based on unemployment.

The local funding portion is approximately $130 billion, equally divided between cities and counties. Localities will receive the funds in two tranches–the first after the U.S. Treasury certifies the proceeds to each jurisdiction and the second one year later.

For cities, $65 billion is divided between jurisdictions that are Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) entitlement jurisdictions and those that are not. $45.5 billion of the $65 billion will be allocated to metropolitan cities utilizing a modified CDBG formula, and the remaining amount for jurisdictions that are non-entitlement CDBG, will be allocated according to population. For the non-entitlement jurisdictions, the amount will not exceed seventy- five percent of their most recent budget as of January 27, 2020. Additionally, non-entitlement jurisdictions proceeds will be allocated through the state for redistribution to local governments.

For counties, the $65 billion will be allocated based on the county’s population. Counties that are CDBG recipients will receive the larger of the population or CDBG-based formula.

Eligible uses of these funds include:

  • Revenue replacement for the provision of government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, relative to revenues collected in the most recent fiscal year prior to the emergency,
  • COVID-19 expenditures or negative economic impacts of COVID-19, including assistance to small businesses, households, and hard-hit industries, and economic recovery,
  • Premium pay for essential workers,
  • Investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

Restrictions on the uses of these funds include:

  • Funds allocated to states cannot be used to directly or indirectly to offset tax reductions or delay a tax or tax increase;
  • Funds cannot be deposited into any pension fund.

Funding must be obligated by the end of calendar year 2024 and expended by the end of calendar year 2026.

As with previous COVID-19 relief packages, implementation will be an extensive process as new or updated guidance and FAQs are developed and released by the U.S. Treasury. For example, the legislation requires each jurisdiction’s executive to “certify” that the funds will be used for eligible purposes. That process is currently under development by the U.S. Treasury.

GFOA will provide regular updates as information becomes available. If you have specific questions or need clarification, GFOA has launched an online portal to gather member questions to help shape engagement and solicit answers from the Administration.

For many jurisdictions, the funding provided under ARPA is substantial and could be transformational for states and local governments in their pandemic rescue and recovery efforts. Elected leaders will need to decide how to best use the additional funding consistent with the ARPA requirements, which are very broad. Finance officers play a critical role in advising elected leaders on the prudent spending of moneys received under ARPA. Finance officers are best positioned to help ensure the long-term value of investments and financial stability of its government using this one-time infusion of resources. When considering how to best advise elected officials and plan for the prudent use of ARPA funds, we offer the following outline of Guiding Principles for the use of ARPA funds:

GFOA American Rescue Plan Act Guiding Principles

Temporary Nature of ARPA Funds. ARPA funds are non-recurring so their use should be applied primarily to non-recurring expenditures.

  • Care should be taken to avoid creating new programs or add-ons to existing programs that require an ongoing financial commitment.
  • Use of ARPA funds to cover operating deficits caused by COVID-19 should be considered temporary and additional budget restraint may be necessary to achieve/maintain structural balance in future budgets.
  • Investment in critical infrastructure is particularly well suited use of ARPA funds because it is a non-recurring expenditure that can be targeted to strategically important long- term assets that provide benefits over many years. However, care should be taken to assess any on-going operating costs that may be associated with the project.

ARPA Scanning and Partnering Efforts. State and local jurisdictions should be aware of plans for ARPA funding throughout their communities.

  • Local jurisdictions should be cognizant of state-level ARPA efforts, especially regarding infrastructure, potential enhancements of state funding resources, and existing or new state law requirements.
  • Consider regional initiatives, including partnering with other ARPA recipients. It is possible there are many beneficiaries of ARPA funding within your community, such as schools, transportation agencies and local economic development authorities. Be sure to understand what they are planning and augment their efforts; alternatively, creating cooperative spending plans to enhance the structural financial condition of your community.

Take Time and Careful Consideration. ARPA funds will be issued in two tranches to local governments. Throughout the years of outlays, and until the end of calendar year 2024, consider how the funds may be used to address rescue efforts and lead to recovery.

  • Use other dedicated grants and programs first whenever possible and save ARPA funds for priorities not eligible for other federal and state assistance programs.
  • Whenever possible, expenditures related to the ARPA funding should be spread over the qualifying period (through December 31, 2024) to enhance budgetary and financial stability.
  • Adequate time should be taken to carefully consider all alternatives for the prudent use of ARPA funding prior to committing the resources to ensure the best use of the temporary funding.

The influx of funds will undoubtedly benefit state and local finances, and aid in the recovery from the budgetary, economic, and financial impacts of the pandemic. Rating agencies will evaluate a government’s use of the ARPA funds in formulating its credit opinion and, importantly, will consider your government’s level of reserves and structural budget balance, or efforts to return to structural balance, as part of their credit analysis. Finance officers will play a critical role in highlighting the need to use ARPA funds prudently with an eye towards long-term financial stability and sustainable operating performance. The funding provided under ARPA provides a unique opportunity for state and local governments to make strategic investments in long-lived assets, rebuild reserves to enhance financial stability, and cover temporary operating shortfalls until economic conditions and operations normalize.