Over the past three years, Congress has released an unprecedented amount of pandemic relief funds to state and local governments. Ohio received tens of billions of dollars across six COVID relief bills for everything from PPE and testing supplies to tourism funding to education to child abuse. The largest of these relief bills is the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which makes historic investments, not only responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in supporting and strengthening government programs at every level as the country recovers from the pandemic.
Naturally, funding of this magnitude flowing into Ohio is something that advocates, businesses, policymakers, stakeholders, nonprofits, and government agencies are all watching closely. ARPA funding has spending requirements and certain allowable uses, as well as frequent and intensive reporting requirements. Sifting through all the layers of this funding takes time and often can’t be tracked using a single source.
A new, single source of truth for ARPA dollars in Ohio
To offer a resource to Ohioans interested in tracking the spending of their federal tax dollars through ARPA, the Ohio Poverty Law Center (OPLC) and Advocates for Ohio’s Future (AOF) launched a project to expand and publish our own tracking, culminating in OhioARPATracker.org. On this free and publicly accessible site, government officials, stakeholders and private citizens can find a myriad of ARPA funding streams and track which federal funds are being distributed to their local schools, nonprofits, governments, and more. The portal clearly breaks down funding by location and category, and includes an FAQ.
When ARPA was passed, it was hailed as a historic opportunity for public input on transformational funding and was often trumpeted as a universal remedy for any and all issues faced across the state. However, with much of Ohio’s funding appropriated already, that has not been the case. There are still limitations on what ARPA funding can be used for and most of Ohio’s allocations were not decided based on public input.
There are still limitations on what ARPA funding can be used for and most of Ohio’s allocations were not decided based on public input.
This leaves us with the questions, where are we now and what role will ARPA funding play in the work of advocates this year?
By far the most-watched ARPA funding stream is the State Fiscal Recovery Fund (SFRF). Not only is it the single largest ARPA funding stream Ohio received, totaling $5.4 billion, it’s also the most flexible fund. Outside of SFRF, all other ARPA funds are programmatic funds, associated with specific programs or uses, and can only be released for spending by the state according to guidelines set by the respective federal agency.
SFRF, in contrast, is generally up to the discretion of the state legislature and the governor and can be used to replace lost public sector revenue due to the pandemic, to invest in water, sewer and broadband, to provide premium or “hero” pay to essential workers, to broadly respond to the impacts of the pandemic, and even for capital expenditures related to responding to the pandemic. SFRF cannot be used to offset a tax cut and cannot be used for general economic development that does not respond to the impacts of the pandemic.
Although public input in SFRF actions is a requirement for spending, Ohio has not facilitated public input in the use of these funds. Opportunities for public input could have included an email inbox for advocacy requests, a feedback form, public hearings, townhalls around the state, and more. To date, these opportunities were not offered to Ohioans by the Governor or legislature and very few opportunities for public testimony were allowed over the last two years before any SFRF legislation was passed.
Following the appropriation of about 27 percent of Ohio’s SFRF in House Bill 45 (134th GA) last December, Ohio now has 8 percent remaining from the $5.4 billion in SFRF received from the federal government, totaling almost $417 million.
State Fiscal Recovery Fund in Ohio covers everything from workforce to parks
- Unemployment Compensation (UC): Repaying pandemic-era UC loans from the federal government
- Water and Sewer
- Parks and Trails
- Public Safety: School security, first responder grants, crime labs and crime victim justice
- Mental and Behavioral Health
- Appalachian Community Grants
- Food Assistance: Children’s Hunger Alliance, Ohio Association of Foodbanks
- Lead Poisoning Prevention and Remediation
- Workforce: County Job and Family Services offices, medical care workforce and workforce housing
- Provider relief: adult day services, hospitals, nursing facilities, home and community-based services, assisted living and hospice
- Tourism: Ohio State Fair Funding
- Meat Processing Plants
- Dredge Material Processing
- Animal Disease Laboratories
- Legal Services
- Arts Grants
- Semi-Professional Sport Support
- Facilities Upgrades
- Public Health: COVID response
State Fiscal Recovery Fund in the Border States
When compared to Ohio’s neighboring states, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Ohio is largely on-track in terms of the percent of SFRF remaining to be appropriated and major categories of appropriations to date.
The table below shows the amount of SFRF received, the amount remaining, and the percent remaining among these five states. Because each state received a different amount of SFRF under the federal government’s allocation formula, examining the percent of SFRF remaining is a good marker for each state’s progress in allocating SFRF to its communities.
Ohio has also chosen to invest SFRF in similar categories as its neighboring states, with unemployment, workforce, water and sewer, and parks and trails all major categories of spending of both neighboring states and Ohio. Notably, Ohio has chosen not to invest in broadband or education, and has made minimal investments in health and human services and nonprofit support.
Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Pennsylvania, like Ohio, all chose to invest some amount of their SFRF in unemployment compensation, either repaying a federal government loan to sustain their unemployment system throughout the pandemic, or to replenish their unemployment compensation trust funds.
Ohio has not invested any SFRF in revenue replacement, or replacing lost public sector revenue caused by lower-than-expected tax revenues during the pandemic. West Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania, however, all invested some amount of their SFRF in revenue replacement. Ohio likely will not choose to invest its remaining SFRF in revenue replacement moving forward, as Ohio now has the largest budget sustainability fund in state history.
Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton Counties
As the three largest counties in the state, Cuyahoga, Franklin and Hamilton Counties received the three largest county allocations in Ohio through the Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (LFRF), which sent billions of dollars of flexible funds to city and county governments across the country. LFRF has the same spending guidelines and flexibilities as SFRF, and is a unique opportunity for local governments to invest in their communities. Many local governments have never received funding of this magnitude from the federal government. With varying capacity to manage LFRF requirements, many local governments have chosen to engage law firms and consultants to ensure all spending and reporting meets federal requirements, and to avoid penalties for failing to comply with reporting requirements. Cuyahoga and Hamilton Counties both chose to invest LFRF funds in compliance assistance from law firms and/or consultants.
Many local governments have never received funding of this magnitude from the federal government.
Each of these three counties chose to approach LFRF spending in different ways. Hamilton County planned the spending of 100 percent of its LFRF. To do this, Hamilton County engaged county residents in public input and hearing opportunities and subsequently released a plan that allocated all of its $159 million LFRF across six spending buckets. After the spending plan was adopted, Hamilton County’s LFRF actions have strictly aligned with the spending plan, with little variation.
Franklin and Cuyahoga Counties did not fully plan their LFRF actions before beginning to allocate funds. Cuyahoga County, however, is unique in its decision to set aside $6 million for projects in each of the county council’s 11 districts, totaling $66 million. Setting aside funding for each council district in this way has likely made it easier for smaller projects in certain districts to be approved through the full council.
Cuyahoga County is also distinct in the sheer number of allocations it has made to distribute LFRF. At 221 allocations, it far outpaces Hamilton and Franklin Counties in the number of actions taken. Some of Cuyahoga County’s allocations are for as little as $20,000 in LFRF. Although this could be more difficult for community members to track, these smaller and more frequent allocations could signal to the community that the county is willing to invest even in small projects and open the door to more advocates with smaller needs. Conversely, this could indicate that the council is more hands-on in determining which community entities receive LFRF funding, and that advocates must make it through the council’s gates for funding, rather than being awarded funding in a competitive grant process with the county administration, as might occur in larger allocations for broad categories, such as housing or direct service nonprofits, for example.
County Allocations by Category
To assist with county-by-county comparisons, OPLC and AOF have sorted each LFRF allocation into broad spending categories. As evidenced by the table below, while there are some categories that were present in the allocations of all three counties, there was also a wide range of variation among counties. Full lists of allocations made by each county are accessible at OhioARPATracker.org.
Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati
Among the three largest cities in Ohio – Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati – spending methods aligned much more closely than among their corresponding counties. Only Columbus partially planned its LFRF actions, with about 28 percent announced as part of its plan. The rest of each city’s LFRF was subject to the actions of city council or the major’s office.
City Allocations by Category
Now that ARPA is almost two years old, does it still hold the same focus of advocates, stakeholders and policy makers?
What’s next for ARPA in Ohio?
Since March 2021, ARPA has been a major part of the conversation around recovery from the pandemic, needs in communities that existed prior to 2020, and priorities of every level of government in Ohio. Now that ARPA is almost two years old, does it still hold the same focus of advocates, stakeholders and policy makers? At the state level, no. Compared to the levels of funding Ohio state legislators regularly allocate, $417 million is next to nothing. Attention at the state level will now largely transition to monitoring SFRF allocations already made and ensuring funding is released quickly, equitably, and in alignment with the intent of ARPA – to promote recovery from the pandemic.
At the city and county level, there are still millions of dollars of LFRF available. Local advocates and policy makers will continue to focus heavily on allocating these funds this year to ensure funding can be fully exhausted by the September 2026 deadline.
The allocation process is only the beginning of a long process of rulemaking, grant making, reporting and compliance. Most of AOF and OPLC’s work moving forward will be on holding policymakers accountable and ensuring ARPA funds have the broadest impact on recovery possible.
Amount unallocated for Hamilton County includes planned expenditures not yet authorized through county council legislation.
Includes planned expenditures not yet authorized through county council legislation.
Amount unallocated for the City of Columbus accounts for planned expenditures not yet authorized through city council legislation.