Connecting state and local government leaders
Local leaders shared work they have underway using pandemic aid and infrastructure dollars during a White House visit.
Local leaders from across Ohio gathered at the White House on Wednesday to describe how a recent wave of federal funding has helped their communities avoid public sector job cuts and make new investments in economic development and other areas.
The discussion comes as communities across the U.S. are deciding how to spend billions of dollars of direct pandemic aid from the American Rescue Plan Act, as well as funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law President Biden signed last year.
“Our very city was saved because of ARP … I cannot overstate that,” said Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval, who took office earlier this year.
Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, Cincinnati needed to furlough 30% of its employees and was looking at a large budget deficit that could have meant laying off dozens of public safety workers, Pureval noted. ARPA funds, he said, allowed the city to stave off “an existential threat.”
More federal money for a wide range of climate-related and energy programs is on the way under the Inflation Reduction Act that Democrats pushed through Congress last month.
And another new law, known as the CHIPS Act, seeks to bolster the domestic semiconductor industry with billions in subsidies. That’s raising hopes in a number of communities looking to take advantage of the business and job growth that could come as a result.
But, at the same time, the White House and Democrats have run into challenges when it comes to communicating to voters how all of the money is being used. And Republicans are assailing much of the spending as misguided and wasteful.
White House American Rescue Plan Coordinator Gene Sperling, who moderated Wednesday’s discussion, framed the Covid-19 relief law as a critical policy intervention that helped the nation avoid worse economic pain due to the pandemic. He added that evictions and long-term unemployment of young people were among the problems the Biden administration was seeking to address with the aid.
Wide Range of Spending
Franklin County, Ohio, which includes the state capital, Columbus, is using federal funds to bolster its public workforce, said County Commissioner Erica Crawley.
The county has established an apprenticeship program to hire and train people in a variety of departments. That program, called County Futures, is one of six workforce-development initiatives the county has backed with help from federal legislation, Crawley said.
Using federal funds to strengthen the workforce isn’t just a priority in the state’s cities. Debbie Phillips, CEO of Rural Action, a community development organization based in southeast Ohio, said the money has allowed the region to expand its AmeriCorps program, which supports things like environmental education and paid high school internships.
“A key strategy for workforce development in rural places has to be helping young people, recent graduates and dislocated workers, find a way to stay in the region to see a future for themselves in our communities,” she said.
Phillips explained how extractive industries like coal mining and natural gas drilling have scarred landscapes and communities across Ohio’s Appalachian region.
But the new federal laws are helping cover the cost of cleaning up “legacy pollution,” she said. For instance, money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and likely from the Inflation Reduction Act will help to clean up abandoned mine sites.
There are also plans to spend federal funds on capping abandoned gas and oil wells to reduce methane emissions, according to Phillips.
These kinds of initiatives not only create jobs, but also help to curb pollution that contributes to climate change, she added.
Ensuring Equitable Gains
Earlier this year, Intel announced plans to invest $20 billion in two chip manufacturing sites in Ohio. That initial investment could grow to $100 billion over the next decade, the company said.
In Franklin County, leaders have been thinking about how to make sure historically disadvantaged populations can benefit from the investment, Crawley said.
With $4.5 million in federal funding, the county has started a workforce development program called Tech Women of Color, which is helping 200 women of color enter the tech industry.
“We know that in Ohio less than 3% of folks in tech are women and women of color…We want women—especially women of color—to be able to access those jobs,” Crawley said.
Many of the county’s other workforce development programs are equity-focused, she added. These include one for women—who were disproportionately affected by the pandemic—and another that helps historically underrepresented populations enter a variety of trades.
Cincinnati, meanwhile, is moving to address inequality through infrastructure, Pureval said. When Interstate 75 was built, it cut through predominantly Black neighborhoods in the city and destroyed parts of those communities.
The city has allocated $20 million from the infrastructure law for projects geared toward rebuilding those neighborhoods and making them more walkable, Pureval said.