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Harrisburg officials, consultants explain how millions in federal relief dollars can be spent

NW Financial consultants explain the American Rescue Plan Act funding to residents at a public meeting

With millions in federal COVID relief dollars raining down on Harrisburg, residents have some thoughts and questions about where it should go.

At a public meeting on Wednesday, city officials and consultants explained the parameters of using Harrisburg’s $47 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

“There are lots of ways to use this money,” explained Julie Needham of NW Financial Group, LLC, a consultant to the city.

Harrisburg has hired NW Financial to provide professional advice on how to use the money within the rules that the federal government has set.

The city already has received half of its share of funding in May and is expected to receive the rest of the money this May.

While Needham said that cities are required to provide public notice of their use of the funds, they are not required to conduct community outreach and meetings like Harrisburg is doing. In fact, not many others are initiating that, she said.

“This is the only city we are working with that said, ‘we want to have community outreach sessions,’” Needham said.

The first of five meetings, held at the Boys & Girls Club on Berryhill Street, attracted a small crowd, but several residents did have questions.

For instance, people asked if the money could be used for specific things, such as youth programs, affordable housing development, rent relief and mental health assistance programs.

Others questioned how to ensure that the funds will be disbursed in an equitable way.

Needham simplified the “final rule,” a 437-page document that explains how ARPA money can be used, into a few categories:

  • Public sector revenues–using money to compensate for revenue lost during the pandemic
  • Public health and economic response–using funds to respond to public health needs or to assist households, businesses and nonprofits that were disproportionately impacted by COVID
  • Premium pay for essential workers–paying essential workers up to $13 per hour in addition to wages (not to exceed $25,000)
  • Water, sewer and broadband infrastructure–funding projects such as lead remediation, stormwater infrastructure improvements and green infrastructure projects

Under these categories, there are a multitude of possibilities for spending the money, Needham explained.

“The city is really in the driver’s seat here, and its preferences are really what should drive it,” said Tom Beckett, also with NW Financial.

Just this week, Harrisburg passed its 2022 budget, which includes using $8.8 million of the ARPA funds as reimbursement for COVID-related expenses. However, the administration made it clear that no additional ARPA money has been allocated yet.

However, at City Council budget workshop meetings, the administration discussed using funds to create a new health bureau in the city or to possibly fund new positions in the public safety department.

Mayor Wanda Williams and her administration will continue to listen to what the community wants at four more public meetings on the following dates:

  • Feb. 17: Allison Hill Center, 1524 Walnut St.
  • Feb. 22: Boys & Girls Club, 17th and Hanover streets
  • Feb. 23: H*MAC, 1110 N. 3rd St.
  • Feb. 24: Nativity School of Harrisburg, 2101 N. 5th St.

All meetings will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

In addition to being held in person, all meetings will be live-streamed on the city’s Facebook page.

Once Harrisburg determines what it wants to fund, it must allocate the money by 2024 and spend the money by 2026, Needham explained.

“There are more ways to use the money than money that you have,” Needham said. “You have to pick and choose what is important to you.”

Residents can send in comments and questions to be included by emailing no later than 4 p.m. on the day of the meeting. Comments and questions are limited to one per resident and must include name and address to be considered.

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