LIKE MANY MAYORS, I am often faced with the choice of investing taxpayer dollars to address immediate needs or to make investments whose benefits will be realized only in the long run.
But when it came to the issue of childcare, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t have to choose. Investing in more – and more affordable – childcare is good for working parents today, and it will help their children thrive today and tomorrow.
That’s one reason why in New Bedford, we’ve allocated $2 million to the NorthStar Learning Centers to build a new childcare facility. The nonprofit group currently serves some of the city’s highest-need children and families. When the new childcare center is complete, it will see a 70 percent increase in the number of children it can serve.
Funding for the program came from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), one of President Biden’s first major pieces of legislation, as well as additional sources. When Congress passed the law two years ago, residents of New Bedford and across the nation were facing a global pandemic and an economy in shambles. Families were worried not only about their health, but about the economic future of our nation. The scarcity of childcare facilities underscored the need for us to act, and to act fast.
In pushing through the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration and Congress relied on state and local leaders to turn things around. That’s a challenge I embrace. The American Rescue Plan has opened opportunities for our city to accelerate its emergence from the throes of the pandemic. Like most cities, for instance, New Bedford also needs more affordable housing options. So we’ve invested more than $11 million into revitalizing existing buildings to create nearly 150 new housing units, with more to come.
New Bedford is also home to a thriving arts and culture sector comprised of dozens of small businesses that saw employment fall by nearly 20 percent at the height of the pandemic. In order to help reinvigorate that community, we’re investing ARPA funds in initiatives like Wicked Cool Places, Art is Everywhere, and ARTnet that, together, offer working capital and other support to those businesses so they can get back on track and resume their contribution to the city’s rich cultural tapestry.
Other small businesses, and the neighborhoods they anchor, are already benefitting from a building façade program which uses ARPA funds for grants of up to $40,000 to upgrade their outward appearance. And we’ve used ARPA funds to help modernize facilities in the Port of New Bedford – America’s highest grossing commercial fishing port – so that the hundreds of small businesses there can continue to help feed America and support working families.
And the good news for all of us is that ARPA funds will continue to have a positive impact in the years to come. Funding from this law can be used by states, counties, and cities for another four years, through the end of 2026. This means that we will continue to help small businesses succeed while investing in workers to ensure they have the skills and training to thrive in their future jobs.
After just two years, there is ample evidence that targeted ARPA initiatives are working not just here, but across the nation.
In Richmond, Virginia, Mayor Levar Stoney has helped the city open multiple child care centers, offering an opportunity for more than 200 families to access affordable services. And that is on top of community-based programs to lower school absenteeism and reduce juvenile violence.
The city of Beaverton, Oregon, has provided more than 540 COVID Business Grants to help firms recover from the pandemic. More than 70 percent of those grants went to businesses with five or fewer employees; nearly two-thirds went to BIPOC-owned businesses; and more than half went to women-owned businesses.
Leaders in Chester County, Pennsylvania, have prioritized behavioral and mental health, making awards to 95 projects to address these issues, including a county-wide mental health crisis response system and a mobile mental health crisis team.
Boston has bolstered the city’s child care programs, funding internships, scholarships, and 800 certificates and degrees for individuals working in the early childhood sector. In addition, the city supported workers – including essential workers – by making certain bus lines free to all.
These examples come from elected officials who are part of the NewDEAL Leaders, a group of more than 200 state and local leaders focused on progressive, pro-growth policies. NewDEAL recently released a report showing how the state and local recovery program from the American Rescue Plan is making real, tangible impacts in communities across the country.
The American Rescue Plan did much more than stave off a second COVID recession. It did more than help heal communities that were devastated from the global pandemic. The law allowed officials across the nation who best understand the challenges of their constituents to advance systematic changes that in many instances will place their communities firmly on a better long-term trajectory. History will show the plan is a blueprint for how our country can leverage local leadership to respond to a national economic crisis.
As President Biden said in last month’s State of the Union address, it’s time to “finish the job.” With the help of laws like the American Rescue Plan, that’s exactly what state and local leaders are doing.
Jon Mitchell is the mayor of New Bedford and a member of the NewDEAL Leaders, a network of more than 200 state and local leaders focused on progressive, pro-growth policies.