Hamilton County lays out recommendations for American Rescue Plan funds

Public hearings next week on how to spend $158M in relief funds
Posted at 12:09 PM, May 19, 2021

CINCINNATI — As part of the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP), Hamilton County is expected to receive $158 million in relief funds. County administrator Jeff Aloutto broke down how that money could be spent at Hamilton County’s COVID-19 press briefing Wednesday, and the public will get the chance to weigh in on the recommendations next week.

Currently, $24 million in ARP funding is recommended for strengthening public health infrastructure. That includes $6 million for ongoing costs of the pandemic, $8 million for mental health and substance abuse programs, and $10 million for services and outreach for disproportionately impacted groups in Hamilton County.

Alutto said in addition to making sure "urgent and emergent needs" of the COVID-19 pandemic are addressed, funding would also be used to prepare for future health emergencies.

"We think that as the community is getting $158 million that the public has the right to expect that that money be put to use, so that if in fact there is a next time, that the community is stronger and more resilient and better able to take that shock down the road," he said.

The largest segment of funding, $71 million, is recommended to address negative economic impacts. About $40 million of that would go toward producing, preserving and maintaining affordable housing units in Hamilton County, with a portion going toward mortgage assistance for homeowners.

"Affordable housing came up in so many different stakeholder discussions we had, everything from people advocating directly for housing needs to folks on the mental health side of things saying we need more supportive housing, from the senior services area indicating the need for housing, to folks in the homeless community looking for transitional and supportive housing," Aluotto said. "So I think we wanted to leave it as open as we could at this point, and we'll define it more as we go through the public hearing process."

Workforce development and assistance for non-profits, small businesses, hospitality and the arts round out the remaining portion of those funds.

Of the $37 million recommended for stabilizing Hamilton County finances and operations, $20 million would replace revenue lost during the pandemic, with the rest slotted for capital improvements in county facilities to stop the spread of COVID-19 as well as public safety payroll, staffing, premium pay and emergency management.

The remaining $19 million in ARP funding would go toward infrastructure, namely high-quality broadband internet and a "strategic expansion" of utilities and sewer system improvements.

Hamilton County Commissioner Alicia Reece said Wednesday the county has already received about $79 million in American Rescue Plan funds. The public will get a chance to weigh in on the funding recommendations at two virtual public hearings set for May 25 in the evening and May 27 at 1 p.m. during the board of commissioners meeting.

"The board will dive deeper into it with the feedback from the public and then make a final decision on what are the things we are hearing from the public, from the taxpayers, what's important to them, and how do we move forward with that," Reece explained.

At the briefing, County Public Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman gave an “extremely positive" update on new COVID-19 cases compared to last winter. In December, Hamilton County saw roughly 716 cases of COVID-19 per day. Now, the last seven-day case average shows just 45 per day. There are currently 2,700 active cases of COVID-19 in the county, and Kesterman said the number of active cases is plummeting as more people get vaccinated.

“If you’ve not yet been vaccinated, it is critical that you take care of that now so you can enjoy the benefits of the vaccine,” Kesterman said.