'Why aren't you giving us back our money?' reader asks of local governments with ARPA funds

May 28—Editor's note: This story is part of a Dayton Daily News investigative project titled Billions in COVID aid: Where it's going. Go here for more on this project, including searchable databases showing how your community spent CARES Act funds and now much it is getting in American Rescue Plan funds.

The $138 million the city of Dayton is receiving through the federal American Rescue Plan is enough to pay $2,348 to every household in the city. Similarly, Springfield and Hamilton are getting enough to give each household $1,853 and $1.392, respectively.

So why don't they do that? That is what some readers asked in response to a Dayton Daily News survey asking what they think governments should do with hundreds of millions in federal taxpayer dollars being received through ARPA.


American Rescue Plan funding per household in local governments

Below is the amount of funding the local governments who received the most through the federal American Rescue Plan are getting per-household. Experts say local leaders likely can't just cut everyone a check, but this illustrates just how massive ARPA is.

Government ARPA

allocation Households Per household

Dayton $137,976,174 58,748 $2,348.61

Montgomery County $103,273,967 227,077 $454.80

Butler County $74,419,288 140,736 $528.79

Warren County $45,568,688 84,127 $541.67

Springfield $44,230,364 23,868 $1,853.12

Hamilton City $33,590,200 24,116 $1,392.86

Greene County $32,814,032 65,915 $497.82

Clark County $26,044,051 54,862 $474.72

Miami County $20,780,971 41,260 $503.66

Middletown $18,925,154 20,057 $943.57

Kettering $13,851,520 25,018 $553.66

Source: U.S. Treasury, U.S. Census Bureau


"Why aren't you giving us back our money?" one reader from Dayton asked through the anonymous form.

This would be the preference of J. Anthony Williams, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Montgomery County who said too much of the federal money is going to fund governments that don't need the money, not help the taxpayers whose money it is.

"We've got rising gas prices, rising electricity, rising food costs and we're going to give government millions of dollars to build a new bridge or fix a pothole it was already going to fix," he said.

How much are local communities getting in American Rescue Plan funds? Search the data here

Some local governments around the country are doing direct cash assistance to help families with childcare costs or help low-income households with utilities, but just cutting equal checks to everyone in a city or county is likely not in line with ARPA program rules, according to Alison Goebel, executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center.

"The intention of ARPA is to support families, individuals and communities what were disproportionally impacted by the pandemic, and that has been people with low to moderate income and often people of color," she said.

U.S. Treasury rules released in January say direct cash transfers to households are allowed only if they are "proportional" to the negative impact of the pandemic.

"Cash transfers, like all eligible uses in the public health and negative economic impacts category, must respond to the negative economic impacts of the pandemic on a household or class of households," according to a Treasury fact sheet. "Recipients may presume that low- and moderate-income households (as defined in the final rule), as well as households that experienced unemployment, food insecurity, or housing insecurity, experienced a negative economic impact due to the pandemic."

Local governments can declare up to $10 million of the ARPA money as replacing revenue lost during the pandemic. This gives them much more freedom in spending the money.

Kent Scarrett, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League, said he's not aware of any Ohio municipalities doing direct cash assistance of any kind directly to households with ARPA funds.

Williams, of the Libertarian Party, said he would prefer local governments pay residents' water bills, power bills or a month of rent over funding government programs.

"That would be more beneficial than whatever they end up doing with it," he said.

Local governments did provide cash assistance to small business and rent and utility assistance to households — usually paid directly to the utility or landlord — with CARES Act funds, but that is far less common with ARPA money, so far. Many local governments are still debating how to spend much of the money they're getting, totaling $718.7 million across 230 local governments.

The closest thing locally was the city of Springboro in May 2021 spending $759,860 paying water, sewer and trash bills for 6,400 residences and water and sewer bills for 600 businesses in the city. The largest bill that was paid off was for another government: Springboro Schools.