Civics

Black voices should help decide fate of ARPA funds

West Virginia has $1.335 billion from American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to spend in the next four years KANAWHA COUNTY: $34,598,499 MONONGALIA COUNTY: $20,513,893 MCDOWELL COUNTY: $3,423,255 CHARLESTON: $36,801,358 BECKLEY: $7,698,933 JANE LEW: $160,000 KERMIT: $150,000 OCEANA: $500,000

Black voices should help decide fate of ARPA funds

The 1985 remake of Brewster’s Millions stars Richard Pryor as Montgomery Brewster, a man with an odd mission – in order to receive his full inheritance, he must spend $30 million in 30 days. With bumbling sidekick John Candy by his side, hilarity ensues. (We also recommend Pryor’s 1979 routine about killing cars, which sadly won’t stop being relevant)

Brewster’s dilemma sounds like something only a Hollywood writer could conjure — millions of dollars just laying around waiting to be spent. Hey, West Virginia, want to hear a secret? We have millions of dollars laying around waiting to be spent! The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, 2021, distributes COVID-19 relief funds directly to municipalities and counties across the country.

Every state. Every county. Every city. They have all received some form of ARPA money. The guidelines state that the funding must be used for COVID-19 recovery efforts, including infrastructure projects related to water and sewer, as well as expanding broadband internet service.

The state of West Virginia will receive $1.335 billion — yes, with a “B” — to be administered by the governor and Legislature. The cities and all 55 counties will receive $677 million, which will be spent by local governments. The funds are distributed in two payments, with everybody receiving roughly half last year, and the remainder at some point in 2022. The funding is allocated based on population, and smaller cities and towns (aka non-entitlement units of local government) are also subject to a cap of 75% of the most recent budget as of Jan. 27, 2020.

A few of the dollar amounts: Kanawha County will receive $34,598,499. Monongalia County gets $20,513,893. McDowell County will see $3,423,255. Charleston itself gets $36,801,358. There will be $7,698,933 going to Beckley. Jane Lew gets $160,000. Kermit receives $150,000. Oceana sees $500,000.

Here is the important part: There is a four-year window in which the money can be spent. We do not need to rush into this, and can figure out how to best help the state and its communities; especially its most vulnerable citizens.

Local leaders and community members have been encouraged to attend public meetings to discuss areas of need that could potentially be addressed through the allocations of ARPA funding in West Virginia.

Topics discussed in these meetings are:

  • Pandemic-Related Challenges
  • Targeting Greatest Needs
  • Making an Impact
  • Sustainability
  • Pooling Resources

It is important that state and municipal leaders deliberately create the space for their constituents to share what they most need to move forward in a post-pandemic world. And, while electronic platforms are a good start, it is crucial to recognize that socially distanced in-person meetings are possible and necessary to ensure that low-income individuals, people without internet access, and Black and brown communities are heard clearly.

This must happen before any special session to appropriate ARPA funds is called.

We started BBG to help serve the underserved communities. We are just getting started, and hope BBG can serve as a resource for people. The more we do that, the more we will be fulfilling our mission. Thanks to the Tuesday Morning Group and Pastor Watts we know there are numerous bills that have been passed and not funded. (Read Joe Sevevino’s Poverty Legislation Not On Capitol Agendas)

We know that public input can be collected through many different mediums, including statewide surveys, listening forums, or an advisory commission with a broad membership of business owners, non-profit leaders, community members, and others would all serve as good places to start. There are so many other voices out there wanting to be heard as well. And, so often we hear that community leaders and influencers are invited to the table.

To help get those voices heard, the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs (HHOMA), in partnership with the Office of Governor Jim Justice, is traveling to all 55 counties for a listening tour focused on ARPA. Cities and the State BOE and County Board of Education are doing the same. Charleston should be commended for its community engagement.

Outreach is happening, but we see an alarming trend that often this information is being exchanged absent of the very voices that the funding could help the most. We are talking about the vulnerable communities of West Virginia — we know these voices are left out because BBG readers are saying they are unaware of what’s happening, they do not understand it, and they are afraid to ask questions.

BBG hopes to help and is seeking your donations and seeking support to follow the ARPA process: From funding, disbursement, and the successes and failures that come as a result. We believe in our Folk-reporters program and know that this is the very type of issue that needs to be shared in the people's voice.

This issue includes ARPA facts that highlights the information disparity and how our oversaturated news cycle leads to a lot slipping through the cracks. People trust people — call or text us with questions, follow us on social media (@BlackByGodWV), and we will try to point you in the right direction.

The money is already there. Please, contact your county commissioner, your mayor, your city council representative, to get your voice heard. You can find out more information about ARPA on U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s website — https://www.manchin.senate.gov/arp — in addition to your local city and county websites.

In a way, you could say that West Virginia has won the lottery. Let’s hope the tale of the Mountain State suddenly coming into an otherworldly amount of money ends on a positive note, lest we forget the sad demise of Jack Whittaker.

Winning a $314.9 million jackpot — then the largest in history — and taking $113 million home after taxes sounds like a dream. It turned into a nightmare for Whittaker, whose life seemingly unraveled over the next two decades. He died in 2020, and reportedly said multiple times he wished he had torn up the winning ticket.

“I pretty much lost everything I held dear in my life,” Whittaker said in an ABC News interview. “I don’t like the hard heart I’ve got. I just don’t like what I’ve become.”

We are hoping to not see history repeat itself in that regard.

On a final note, not to spoil Brewster’s Millions for y’all, but the Black hero succeeds. We at BBG want to see more Black heroes succeed, and we can’t do that without the help of the governor and the West Virginia Legislature.

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