Cobb community activists say second round of COVID relief funds should benefit those most in need


By Arielle Robinson

Two local and longtime Cobb community activists say they would like to see the next round of federal funds from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act move towards a county plan to promote equity.

Congress adopted ARPA in March. The intention of the law is to help state, local and tribal governments manage the economic and social costs of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, October 29, Cobb County launched its ARPA Community Needs Survey in an electronic newsletter, which was reprinted by the Courier a few days later.

The aim of the survey, available in English or Spanish, is to gather feedback on what Cobb residents would like the county to allocate from its roughly $ 147 million in federal aid.

The $ 147 million is split into two payment periods.

In May, Cobb received $ 73,824,239 from ARPA and will receive the same amount again in 2022.

The survey takes approximately 5-10 minutes to complete and addresses four categories: supporting water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure, reducing negative economic impact, supporting public health response, and providing a premium for essential workers.

“The survey will help the county reflect the community’s priorities in its plan to invest funds between these eligible uses,” the county announcement said. “… Each survey response will help shape an investment strategy that meets the highest needs of the community. Hard copies of surveys are available to everyone Cobb Senior Services Multipurpose Centers. “

Sally Riddle and Cobb Southern Christian Leadership President Dr Ben Williams, community activists who have worked on a multitude of social justice issues, from police brutality to prison and immigration reform and beyond, said they were concerned about fairness in the county.

They would like Cobb to use his ARPA funds to help marginalized communities in the county.

They feel encouraged by a federal government that has expressed its intention to ensure social justice for the poor, the LGBTQ community, people of color and other historically oppressed groups.

In particular, they emphasize the first decree President Joe Biden signed in January titled “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.”

Executive Order 13985 directs the federal government to review its agencies and programs for racial, gender, wealth and other inequalities. After the review process, agencies must determine the solutions that best address these inequalities.

Section 6 of the EO suggests that the federal government allocate resources “to address the historic failure to invest sufficiently, fairly and equitably in underserved communities, as well as in the individuals of those communities.”

Agencies have one year to collect data on various inequalities and develop a plan that attempts to compensate for the inequalities.

Riddle and Williams’ views are also inspired by the county’s written pledge to fight racism.

Last year, amid international protests against the murder of George Floyd by police, Cobb’s board of commissioners unanimously passed a anti-racist resolution in which the Council said it would actively engage in “providing an environment that supports civil rights for all”.

In light of this local and federal government legislation, Riddle said now would be a “perfect opportunity to really help offset some of this inequality.”

Riddle spoke about the shortage of child care workers and how ARPA funds can help in this area.

“Is there a way for our county government to use some of these funds to provide wage subsidies to child care workers or income-based subsidies for families so they can get on? allow child care so they can return to work? Riddle said.

Riddle also mentioned the allocation of more funds to mental health.

She said the Cobb County Community Service Board, which provides mental health resources, is stressed about staffing levels and their ability to respond.

Residents should have easier ways to access these mental health services, Riddle said.

Even from the perspective of what on the surface may not appear to be a social justice issue – infrastructure improvements – could be used to address disparities, Riddle said.

“We could target these infrastructure improvements in the most needy areas of our county,” she said. “… there are just a myriad of ways that if we really think in a creative and original way, we could use some of these funds.” “

Williams is part of a study group of people from seven southeastern states looking at Biden’s EO, ARPA funds, and how the states intend to spend the money.

Williams said fairness, rather than equality, is the “new wake-up call.”

Williams explained the difference between fairness and equality with an analogy:

“The similarity does not change the status quo. If you and I try to get downtown by bus – and that’s the goal – and the bus ticket costs $ 1, you have 75 cents and I have 50 cents, the fair distribution of resources would be up to you. give a quarter, now you have $ 1 and I get 50 cents, because the point is that we both get downtown. If we treated this equally, you’d get a quarter and say, “I’ll see you later, Ben.” Because I would have a quarter that would make me 75 cents, and I would always be missing a quarter. This is equality.

Williams added to the issues he thinks federal funds could be allocated to. Workers could receive a living wage, including an improvement in living standards, he said.

“We know that there are food deserts [in our county]”Williams said.” We look at our county, where we recognize that there is no easy access to a bank. You look at our county, where our transportation needs are more evident [in certain parts of the county] than other parts of the county. You look at our county where some people are more dependent on public transport than in other places. Equality won’t fix that, fairness will.

Williams said the county should be responsible for the money and spend it in a way that people of color can have more resources at their disposal, as they are often the hardest hit by socio-economic issues.

“We have a Housing office … Which needs to be resourced so that it can do the job the housing authorities have been put in place for, ”said Williams.

He also said the county should invest in the community to produce more mixed income housing. He said more houses were being built, but they remained unaffordable for working-class and low-income people.

Williams acknowledged that the county has and continues to work to help marginalized communities with some progress – albeit little, in his opinion.

For example, in June, the BOC vote allocate more than $ 1.5 million in ARPA funds for food aid. The county recommended that the money go to local nonprofits to distribute the food.

Like Riddle, Williams believes that ARPA funds can come out for the underprivileged in dramatic ways.

Cobb County recently hired a group of consultants, Deloitte Consulting LLP, to determine the optimal ways to spend federal aid.

According to the agenda item concerning the hiring of a consultant, “negotiations were conducted with the company to reach an acceptable working framework and fees. The terms of the contract include nine deliverables to be completed within 12 months for an amount of $ 2,788,000 and these charges will be paid from ARPA funds the county has already received.

Something Riddle would like to see clarified is the consultant group’s plan for community input beyond the survey.

She fears that Cobb’s most disadvantaged people – the people who would benefit the most if ARPA funds were directed to them – might not be aware of or have access to the investigation. This may result in the exclusion of their crucial contribution.

“How will this consulting firm obtain the contribution that would be adequate, representative, of our various communities in the county? Riddle asked. “We have Asian communities, we have Latin American communities – are they going to do anything in Spanish? … How will they analyze this data? And what kind of timeline do they envision for getting feedback to the Council of Commissioners? And will there be capacity for community input when there is a draft plan of what to do with the money? “

Riddle also expressed concern about the Monday, November 22 deadline for responding to the poll. She says the schedule is too short, especially in light of the holidays.

So far, around 200 people have responded to the survey, Cobb County communications director Ross Cavitt said.

Of the timeline, Cavitt said the county plans to extend the investigation deadline until early December. County officials will hold another meeting in the coming week to determine a specific date.

Regarding the accessibility of the survey, Cavitt replied, “It is available online and we are working through our senior centers to distribute hard copies of the survey to their centers and they will be present at various county events in the coming weeks to disseminate more information. We will also likely send copies to people who indicate they do not have online access. “

Finally, Cavitt said the survey is just the first of multiple opportunities that residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinions on how the county should spend ARPA funds.

“[Deloitte is] are currently holding sessions with commissioners, then they will meet with nonprofits and small businesses in the county, ”Cavitt said. “Once the online survey is complete, we will schedule a series of public events (some in collaboration with commissioners). We haven’t announced any of this yet as we are only in the second week of planning.

Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She is the current Chair of the Academic Section of the Society of Professional Journalists and former Editor-in-Chief of KSU Sentinel. She enjoys music, reading poetry and non-fiction books, and collecting books and records. She enjoys all kinds of music and read poetry and non-fiction books.

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