Aldermen give first approval to American Rescue Plan funds

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Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig on July 6, 2021

MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) provided preliminary approval for proposed recommendations on $43.2 million received from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Just over $21 million of that funding will be placed within the Fiscal Year 2021 Community Improvement Plan (CIP) Budget over 23 different items that were discussed on Tuesday night.

Although members of the BMA expressed concern that the proposal was not sent through the BMA’s Committee on Community Improvement as is the case with most CIP proposals, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig noted that the items within the overall proposal supplement each other.

Craig also noted that the entire board should oversee a proposal this large initially and that sending CIP projects to Community Improvement was not a requirement.

“This is a unique opportunity for the city of Manchester,” said Craig.

The mayor also noted several times that this funding must be spent no later than September 2024, creating a time-sensitive nature to the funding since many of the items will take several months to plan and implement.

Other supporters of the proposal agreed that it would significantly aid the city in various areas ranging from helping to extend the life of the city’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Resource Team (ACERT) program to battling food deserts on the city’s West Side.

Alderman Barbara Shaw (Ward 9) agreed, stating that the funds would impact the city for the better one way or another and it needed to be used as soon as possible, adding that additional deliberation would not be useful.

“We need to trust that moving forward with this is good for the city,” she said. “We need to look at this collectively tonight, or otherwise we’ll be having breakfast here in the morning”

However, several members of the board disagreed with Craig’s sense of urgency, hoping for a more in-depth look at each item in the proposal given its magnitude.

Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur (At-Large) also expressed concern over a proposal to add 13 community health workers. Specifically, Levasseur noted that the community health workers, who would relieve the workload of police officers, teachers and other community employees whose skills may not fit needed situations, would add additional stress to emergency dispatchers.

Levasseur also questioned those who would take the word of department heads without question, stating that it was the job of elected officials to provide an oversight role.

Alderman Pat Long (Ward 3) also expressed disappointment that no funding was provided in the proposals for outdoor housing of homeless individuals. Long and Craig disagreed over whether this would even be allowed under the federal guidelines for the funding, with Craig going on to say that she disagrees with the concept of providing outdoor shelter for the city’s homeless when indoor shelter is available.

Over nearly two hours of discussion, there were other points of concern, even from supporters such as Alderman Dan O’Neil (At-Large), who hoped that data-driven decisions could be made to tweak the items in the proposal as needed, citing efforts in San Antonio where directed resources provided a more effective impact.

The proposal was approved on a voice vote and will be deliberated upon again in another hearing in the next few weeks.

A full copy of the proposals can be found below.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Craig released a statement praising the BMA’s decision to move forward with the proposal.

“I’m thrilled the Board of Aldermen voted to move our American Rescue Plan proposal forward. These federal funds provide a unique opportunity to help our city recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and build a stronger economy,” said Mayor Joyce Craig. “These programs will have a significant impact on our community; helping residents address health and safety in our neighborhoods, supporting small businesses, increasing affordable housing, and adding workforce development and college education initiatives. This is a really exciting time for our city.”

The mayor’s office also released praise of the proposal’s approval from several other high-profile community members

“We are pleased to see forward progress and collaboration with the Board of Aldermen on their preliminary approval of the ARPA funds for the City of Manchester,” said Paul LeBlanc, President and CEO, Southern New Hampshire University. “Manchester residents overwhelmingly cited education as one of the areas to which they would like to see ARPA funds allocated, and we look forward to working with Mayor Craig and the Board to help expand access to higher education for public school students in Manchester and to support local workforce needs.”

“The Greater Manchester Chamber, along with many community business leaders, support the proposed ARPA spending plan and the investments that will generate and support job growth, stimulate economic activity and expansion, and strengthen the City’s ability to attract and retain its workforce,” said Greater Manchester Chamber CEO Mike Skelton. “By taking a long-term, investment-minded approach to deploying ARPA funding, the City of Manchester can help ensure not only a quick recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic but also that strategic opportunities to enhance the long-term economic vitality of the community are realized and achieved.”

“Amoskeag Health appreciates the Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of our city’s residents, especially its children and youth, by moving this proposal forward,” said Lara Quiroga, Director of Community-Integrated Health and Wellbeing at Amoskeag Health. “The Newborn Home Visit Program and the Adverse Childhood Experiences Response Team will help to connect children and their families to community resources to mitigate risk for child abuse and neglect and help families thrive. We look forward to continuing to work together on programming that could have a positive impact now and in generations to come.”