Gov’t Mule? Your Tax Dollars Are At Work, But Slowly

Billions in Biden’s first rescue package have yet to reach people.

Micah Sifry


President Biden signing the American Rescue Plan into law, March 11, 2021. “Help is here,” he said. Well, kinda.

For all the attention devoted to President Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda — the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that passed back in March 2021, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure act passed in November, and the currently stalled Build Back Better Act, which is hovering at about $1.8 trillion for social programs and needs — here’s a crazy fact: many states and localities are only now figuring out how they are going to spend the “rescue” money passed almost a year ago. It’s no wonder Biden’s approval numbers have dipped; they aren’t seeing how his signature initiatives may affect them because many of those programs haven’t even gotten into gear.

A simple Google search on “American Rescue Plan” shows this plainly. The city council of Superior, Wisconsin, is just now getting its first look at how its mayor wants to spend the $17 million allocated to them ten months ago under ARPA. Cabell County, West Virginia got about $42 million of the billions apportioned to help schools recover from the pandemic, which it is just starting to spend now on things like hiring more nurses, putting WiFi in school buses, and the like. It was only yesterday that the city council of Couer D’Alene, Idaho actually voted to accept the $8.6 million it was allocated under ARPA. (Most of the 75 people who attended that council meeting wanted to reject the money, out of misguided fears that accepting it would lead to socialism and tyranny — I guess they want to live in their own private idaho.) The residents of Maine’s Aroostook County are just now being invited to public hearings to discuss how to use the $13 million they were awarded. The same is true for the residents of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, who have $46.7 million to spend.

Some of these delays can be attributed to the vagaries of local government processes, and ARPA left a lot of flexibility to allow states and localities to determine what they wanted to prioritize. But many local and state governments are also severely understaffed due to years of budget cuts forced on them by fiscal conservatives, a problem that has only been compounded by the stresses brought on by the pandemic. Considering how much Democratic…