Connecting state and local government leaders
The clash is the latest instance of GOP lawmakers assailing pandemic relief spending under the American Rescue Plan Act.
With the economy a major issue in the upcoming midterm elections, House Republicans on Tuesday attacked the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act as a "boondoggle" that’s led to wasteful spending and driven up inflation. Democrats, meanwhile, defended the plan for saving jobs and lives, and for keeping the economy from getting worse.
Deriding ARPA as “the Biden bailout bill,” Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, questioned how some states and cities have used the money.
At a hearing, Smith said, “We have cataloged numerous examples of ridiculous waste of federal tax dollars from the American Rescue Plan: $2 million to purchase a ski area, $140 million for luxury hotel developments in Florida, $20 million to modernize fish hatcheries in Maine, $4 million for bird sanctuary, $2 million for a golf course.” He also said that $250,000 has been spent to build pickleball courts.
“So what did American families get? I'll tell you, they got higher prices and lower real wages,” Smith said.
The attacks are the latest from Republicans who have questioned how the pandemic relief funds are being used. Fourteen Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee last week asked the General Accounting Office to investigate how the administration is keeping track of where the dollars are going. They wrote that there has not been enough congressional oversight, and that the Treasury Department hasn’t made available detailed information as to whether states and localities are properly reporting how they’re using the money.
“Washington politicians are addicted to spending,” said U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican, during the hearing.
However, the committee’s Democratic chairman, Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, argued that the 2021 Covid-19 relief package has lowered unemployment. The spending act “helped state and local governments avoid massive layoffs—keeping teachers, firefighters, police and millions of other essential workers on the job,” he said. “Local leaders had the resources necessary to meet urgent needs and ensure their communities came out of the pandemic better than they went into it.”
The top things local governments are spending ARPA dollars on are operations and to replace revenue they lost during the pandemic, according to a joint project of Brookings Metro, the National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities.
Union City, Georgia Mayor Vince Williams, speaking on behalf of the National League of Cities, also defended the spending measure Democrats passed with unanimous Republican opposition. Williams acknowledged his city has used ARPA funds to move forward with building a greenway trail.
“Why? A greenway is a sought-after amenity. It will raise the value of the community,” he said. Noting that the predominantly Black city of 26,000 people has only two parks, Williams said the trail will also give residents an affordable way to exercise.
“This project will connect everyone in the community with a recreational system that gives families across the city the opportunity to conveniently access outdoor recreation space,” he said.
Rep. Earl “Buddy” Carter, a Georgia Republican, said he recognizes the importance of creating recreational areas for citizens. “But it’s not so important that it calls for sending federal dollars and increasing inflation,” said the former mayor of Pooler, Georgia.
Williams said Union City also used its ARPA dollars on food assistance and to upgrade its water, wastewater and stormwater systems. In addition, he said the money allowed the city to offer additional pay to retain public safety workers during the pandemic.
And, Williams said, “We certainly used the funding to be able to stave evictions off by helping with rental assistance, as well as mortgage assistance and utility assistance.”
Without the ARPA dollars, Williams said, “my city would have certainly continued to do as many communities have, and that is collapse.”
Assessing Local Needs
Though Democrats argued high inflation has been caused by supply chain problems and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Rep. Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican, blamed ARPA, criticizing it for doling out money without assessing what each city really needs. Instead, Donalds said, “They just picked the number out of the air and said we're gonna spend X amount of money.
“You have a glut of money sitting out, and it gets spent in reckless ways,” he said.
Donalds questioned Williams, the Georgia mayor: “You said that your constituents would still say that the American Rescue Plan is a good thing in spite of the inflation that it has been created in the United States. Do you think your constituents would actually choose paying $65 [to fill up a gas tank] or the American Rescue Plan?”
“The American Rescue Plan has saved human lives, so I am not going to equate the price of gas and human lives,” Williams said.
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty.