President Joe Biden is sending Cedar Rapids $28 million as part of the American Rescue Plan. It’s a big chunk of change. So naturally, a lot of folks have ideas on how best to spend it in a city not only hit with a pandemic but also that derecho you might have heard about.
City officials have laid out broad-brush plans for how they’d like to spend the money. At a presentation during this past week’s City Council meeting, staff said the money should be focused on four areas, housing, and social services, workforce training and education, west side flood protection and revenue losses sustained through disasters both viral and stormy.
Under housing and social services, the city hopes to seek proposals for housing projects in cooperation with Linn County, which is getting $44 million from the rescue plan. There would be money for the PATCH Program helping property owners make a still long list of derecho repairs. And the city would seek an expanded, permanent home for the west side Ladd Library, which would also serve as an opportunity center providing access to various services.
Other dollars would be used to address workforce shortages through education and training programs, partnering with the Pathways Program at Kirkwood Community College and the Small Business Development Center.
Advocates for Social Justice and the Sunshine Movement pushed the city to address police reforms and adopt a climate action plan, respectively. Now the groups are using their clout to address housing.
Mayoral candidate Amara Andrews, a member of the Advocates for Social Justice, supports that plan
“I think that is a logical proposal to have a task force to study the issue of homelessness, and to put forth a plan to help people out of homelessness makes sense. It’s a big problem in our city,” Andrews told me this past week. “Now is the perfect time when we have the recovery act funding.”
Andrews also has her own plan for spending ARP funds. She would direct dollars to the “human welfare infrastructure” in Cedar Rapids, namely nonprofits providing critical relief and recovery services. She would make investments in existing small businesses and start-ups and address workforce shortages. She wants multiple opportunity centers in the city to provide employment resources and address transportation, child care, training and other employment barriers.
“The reality is that we need to help the people in need. And that is certainly what the focus should be. And any plan that doesn’t put people first is not paying attention,” Andrews said.
Andrews believes the city should shoulder more of the burden currently born by nonprofits.
“There are still a lot of houses in disrepair and people who are homeless as a result. And the struggle of getting materials and getting people to work on those repairs and navigating insurance claims still is a big problem in the community,” Andrews said. “I don’t want us to lose sight of that. I feel like the city is relying a lot on the nonprofits to deal with some of these issues.”