New guidance note assesses Washtenaw County’s American Rescue Plan Act benefits

A new policy brief from the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions Initiative offers recommendations on how to target funding to key programs and priorities, focus on program implementation, and review the long-term impacts as Washtenaw County leaders decide how to allocate the remainder of its American Rescue Plan law money.

With about half of Washtenaw County’s $71 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated, UM researchers assessed the county’s spending priorities to offer new insights into strategies to maximize the long-term impact and promote equity with one-time spending.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provides $350 billion in federal funding to state and local governments to help with pandemic recovery for hard-hit small businesses, households and industries, and replace lost revenue for government services. Washtenaw County received the $71 million split across two allocations in May 2021 and May 2022, and the County Board of Commissioners voted on how to spend $36 million of the funds so far.

These funds will be substantial to help the county’s pandemic recovery efforts. With more money to allocate and distribution decisions still undetermined, this is an opportunity to maximize the impact of ARPA funds to increase equity in Washtenaw County. One-Time Spending for Long-Term Impact: Assessing Washtenaw County’s American Rescue Plan Act Benefits. »


Amanda Nothaft, Senior Data and Evaluation Manager at Poverty Solutions and author of the policy brief

While Washtenaw County boasts high levels of education, relatively high incomes, and good health outcomes, these aggregate measures hide wide disparities in outcomes for residents in different parts of the county. Access to opportunity in Washtenaw County is often tied to race and location.

Poverty Solutions has partnered with the County Office of Community and Economic Development to revamp the Washtenaw County Opportunity Index, which combines 16 indicators into five categories of opportunity – health, job access, economic well-being , education and training, and community engagement and stability – to identify which parts of the county experience the highest and lowest levels of access to opportunity.

Washtenaw County Commissioners formally committed in 2021 to using the Opportunity Index to apply an equity lens to their decision-making and county initiatives. The ARPA funds provide a unique opportunity to bolster the county’s current efforts to close opportunity gaps and promote equity, Nothaft said.

The guidance note offers an assessment of Washtenaw County’s current ARPA allocations, which include:

  • Navigation and financial assistance to help families find daycare
  • Creation of children’s savings accounts for all public school students
  • Broadband expansion
  • Expand access to home weatherization services
  • Investing in the Washtenaw County Health Department
  • Launch of a mobile helpdesk initiative
  • Create a Community Priority Fund to provide funding to organizations serving communities with poor access to opportunities that have been hit hard by the pandemic

The evaluation recommends considering the number of eligible people and the amount of money spent on currently funded initiatives to determine if additional funds are needed to achieve the intended impact. The guidance note also cautions against creating too many new initiatives and programs that will not have sustainable sources of funding once the ARPA money is spent, and instead emphasizes the value of invest in projects such as water, transport and neighborhood infrastructure that will have long-term impact after a single injection of funds.

Distribution of ARPA funds through grants and in partnership with community organizations must include a process to ensure that grantees have the capacity and track record to accomplish what they propose and that their interventions are supported by evidence and have results measurable.

According to the policy brief, the goals of closing gaps in educational, economic and health outcomes by bringing services to those in need and providing funding to organizations that work within the community can only be achieved if these programs are fully funded and carefully implemented.

James V. Hayes