Housing, food security, workforce development, childcare and early education, small business opportunities, environmental health, and behavioral and mental health are among the wide range of issues the new ARPA Community Advisory Committee will consider when it comes to allocating federal Covid-19 relief funds.
The 20-member committee, tasked with making recommendations for spending approximately $15 million of the $40 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, held its first meeting last week.
Over the course of seven meetings, the committee will recommend the areas it believes the city should allocate the funds. The specific organizations that get the money will be determined by the city administration through an RFP (requests for proposal) process, according to City Manager Thomas Ambrosino.
“I think this is going to be an interesting and exciting committee,” said Ambrosino. “It’s not all that often that you get to make a decision on $15 million and how you want to spend it. That’s a considerable amount of money, especially given that it is ARPA money and it has surprisingly very few restrictions on it … as long as the ultimate decisions are related to Covid impact.”
The remainder of the $40 million in expected ARPA funds, about $25 million, are set aside for expected Covid-related lost revenue in the city and will be earmarked for capital improvement projects, Ambrosino said.
Mo Barbosa, a community engagement director from Health Resources in Action, facilitated the first meeting, primarily focusing on the goals of the committee and how it will go about making its recommendations.
While the committee will be getting input from outside agencies and stakeholders, Barbosa said the final recommendations on where the money will be spent is up to the committee.
“It’s a tribute to Chelsea that this transparency is happening here,” said Barbosa. “Many other communities are not doing this and the voices of the residents and community stakeholders are not part of their process, so this is very different and important and special that it is happening in Chelsea.”
While the use of the ARPA funds is fairly open, Barbosa said there are some areas the city is seeking to focus on, including housing, food security, workforce development, childcare and early education, small business opportunities, environmental health, and behavioral and mental health issues.
“We have quite a set of topics to dive deep into and then make some decisions about,” said Barbosa.
That decision will be fed by information that the city has from the recent census and other studies, as well as input from the committee members and the public at large.
“There will also be a large community survey in which we will be asking all the residents of Chelsea to give us their voice about what they care about and what they see for the future of Chelsea and what we should be investing in,” said Barbosa.
After the advisory committee sets its priorities for spending the federal funds, it will then decide on the strategies to fund those priorities.
Barbosa said the committee cannot make the recommendations for handing out the money for specific organizations. That will be handled by the city administration.
“We solicit proposals for the people to do the work,” said Ambrosino. “You will tell us the areas where we want to spend the money. I am committing to you that the city under my leadership is going to follow the recommendations of this committee for the expenditure of the $15 million.”
Barbosa said the recommendations should be in place by February.