York City gets $35.3M in COVID-19 recovery funds; residents get say in how it's spent

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

Thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act, York City is in line to receive $35.3 million for COVID-19 recovery purposes.

The ARPA, signed by President Joe Biden in March, includes $350 billion in funds to assist local and state communities in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. York City's share of that $350 billion is $35.3 million.

The funds from the ARPA must be allocated by Dec. 31, 2024, and used by Dec. 31, 2026. Funds can be used to cover eligible costs incurred from March 3 of this year to Dec. 31, 2024.

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A percentage of the funding will be used to financially stabilize York City from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a news release.

The funding will come in two parts, York City Mayor Michael Helfrich said Tuesday. So far, the city received $17,652,353.50 on June 7 and is trying to determine where that money will be allocated. The second installment is set to come in approximately 12 months later, according to the U.S. Treasury website.

City residents are able to weigh in via a survey that asks them to rank their preferences on what the money will be used for.

York City Mayor Michael Helfrich speaks to media about recent shootings and discusses Operation Scarecrow, a multi-agency initiative that focuses on individuals who illegally purchase and possess firearms, during a press conference held outside the York City Police Department in York City, Friday, April, 2, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"I took the majority of the options that were given to us by the Treasury and just laid them out in a giant survey," Helfrich said Tuesday. "And then at the end, left a box to fill in a narrative description of something specific that they want." 

To take the survey, visit www.opentownhall.com/portals/684/Issue_10949/survey_responses/new

Among the initiatives ARPA funding can be used for are broadband infrastructure, health and safety, educational disparity, public safety and increasing the health of communities and neighborhoods. The health initiatives can be related to the COVID-19 pandemic or not, Helfrich said. 

For his part, Helfrich said he wants the city to take advantage of what he calls a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work toward long-term economic gain. 

Among those priorities Helfrich wishes to put funding toward is improving broadband infrastructure.

"I have a vision of free Wi-Fi for all residents in the city of York. That would really bring down a lot of access barriers; it would help the school district and students," he said.

Crime-reduction tactics are another initiative Helfrich is hoping to put ARPA funding toward. He cited counselors and diversionary programs for those who commit crimes as part of the priorities, saying reducing the violent crime rate was one of his main focuses.

In the current job market, "learn while you earn" is another of Helfrich's priorities.

"You get paid for a 40-hour work week, but one or two of those days you'd be improving your skillset to improve your career opportunities," he said.

Child care is also important, he said; without it, people get stuck in a cycle of not being able to afford more education due to the need for child care. Minimum wage jobs are often not enough to pay for basic expenses, meaning people get stuck in the cycle of poverty.

Edquina Washington talks with a customer at her Redeemed Queen booth during the Juneteenth York 2021 celebration at Campus Park in York City Saturday, June 19, 2021. President Joe Biden signed a bill on Thursday making June 19 a federal holiday, commemorating the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas learned they were free. Washington is a York City Council member. Bill Kalina photo

City Council member Edquina Washington said she would like to see funding go to some of the smaller nonprofits in the community.

"Many times, these smaller nonprofits are not given the opportunity to apply for certain funding because they are smaller," she said Tuesday. Providing those smaller nonprofits with assistance would help them to make a larger impact in the community, she said.

Once the survey closes on Aug. 16, a committee consisting of the mayor, the City Council, state Rep. Carol Hill Evans, D-York City, and community members will review the information from the survey and make recommendations to the mayor and City Council. 

State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans joins officials in discussing $6.4 million in funding that will be provided to York County businesses through the COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP) and the American Rescue Plan during a press conference at Central Market House in York City, Friday, June 11, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In addition to the survey, Washington said she'd like to see a community town hall where residents could voice their opinions on the funding. Because of  the digital divide, not all residents have access to the online survey, she said.

At least one item will be voted on Tuesday night, Helfrich said. A motion before the City Council will ask for $50,000 to be put toward eviction counselors to help those who may be evicted as moratoriums on evictions end at the end of the month.

"We want to be able to assist people in directing them not only to their rights, but to their resources," he said. 

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we have to be sure that we are making major impacts and long-term impacts," Helfrich said. "I can't say it enough, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend money on, in my opinion, on breaking the cycle of poverty and addressing the violence in the city of York. Those are the outcomes I expect to see from the use of this money."