Marchers walk along South First Avenue in a march from Catholic Worker House to a listening session in Mercer Park in Iowa City, Iowa on Wednesday August 11, 2021. Members of the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition, made up of 16 groups, marched to draw attention for the city to receive US bailout money to help refugees, immigrants, excluded workers, undocumented immigrants, previously incarcerated people, workers cash economy and their families who they believe took disproportionate risks during the pandemic. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)
IOWA CITY – Iowa City City staff have unveiled four emerging relief recommendations that could be implemented with American Rescue Plan Act funds as early as late 2021.
Among those recommendations are one-time payments to undocumented adults who have been excluded from stimulus checks, unemployment and other federal benefits. This could make Iowa City one of the first U.S. cities to provide federal pandemic relief funds to undocumented workers.
Mayor Bruce Teague said one-time adult payments that were excluded from previous federal benefits was a “great opportunity.”
“There have been a lot of challenges that people have had, but when I look at the list I find hope and opportunity,” said Teague. “… I am also disheartened by many of the needs of our community during this time. “
City manager Geoff Fruin said the total number of people who would benefit from the one-time payments is unknown, but that number likely runs into the hundreds. Fruin and Deputy City Manager Rachel Kilburg presented emerging and long-term recommendations to Iowa City Council during Tuesday’s informal working session.
The other three emerging categories are eviction prevention services, emergency housing repairs and resettlement program and non-profit emergency operating assistance. The four categories of emerging needs could cost between $ 3 million and $ 6 million.
Fruin reminded board members to be flexible during this process as needs and priorities continue to change.
“We’re the first to come out with some of these recommendations,” Fruin said. “We must expect things to change.”
The city will receive $ 18.3 million under the American Rescue Plan Act, a $ 1.9 trillion relief program to respond nationally to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city received half of its funds in May and is expected to receive the remaining funds in May 2022. The money is to be allocated by the end of December 2024 and spent by December 2026.
The city of Iowa City conducted a public participation process over the summer to see how residents would like to see federal pandemic relief dollars used. Common suggestions included helping undocumented migrants, providing bonuses for essential workers, and investing in affordable housing.
Residents also said they wanted the city to use the funding to improve high-speed internet access, expand mental health services, improve public transportation and raise the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour, between other suggestions.
The Fund Excluded Workers Coalition has called for federal pandemic relief dollars to go to undocumented immigrants, previously incarcerated people and unemployed workers.
Members of the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition gathered outside the Iowa City / Johnson County Senior Center prior to the formal council session and spoke during the council’s public comment period. Speakers expressed the urgency to support excluded workers both with their comments and the signs they were holding – “eI am ahora,which translates to “the time has come.” Many speakers have said that the money city staff recommend is not enough.
City staff recommend $ 1 million to $ 1.5 million for one-time payments, but Emily Sinnwell said at least $ 4 million should be provided by the city and $ 4 million from the county. Sinnwell provided translation services to the speakers who spoke in Spanish during the public comments.
The coalition released a report on Monday showing how some undocumented immigrant workers have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many undocumented workers see themselves as essential and say they fear protecting themselves and their families from the virus. They also expressed concern about being able to pay for food, rent and other utilities.
The report is based on a survey of 289 undocumented immigrant workers statewide, including workers in Iowa City, Coralville and Cedar Rapids. The survey was conducted from June 26 to August 31.
The coalition lists six ‘solutions’ for local and state governments, as well as steps for local businesses and organizations:
- Provide direct cash assistance of $ 3,200 to immigrant workers excluded from pandemic relief
- Increased risk premiums for essential workers earning less than $ 15 an hour
- Cancel rent and suspend mortgage payments
- Pass paid sick leave guaranteeing workers 14 days of paid sick leave each year
- Increase the number of affordable housing and develop public transport
- Building the power of immigrant workers statewide
An additional public contribution for the use of ARPA funds will be required, Kilburg said. The summer public briefing focused on emerging needs and key priorities. Future public comment sessions will be used to refine focus areas.
For long-term strategic investments, city staff recommended eight categories consistent with what residents expressed during the public input process.
Priorities include BIPOC business support, social service needs assessment, affordable housing initiatives, mental health services, workforce development, climate resilience, support for small business, arts, culture and tourism, public infrastructure and income replacement for the city.
“I think the staff gave us a good start here, and I like both the split between emerging needs and strategic investments,” said Susan Mims, board member. “We need a plan that will help us move forward and build for the future.”
Council members agreed with the initial recommendations made by city staff. Several council members expressed the possibility of allocating more money for affordable housing or accelerating relief efforts for housing repairs as winter approaches.
As discussed in the informal council working session, the council did not vote on the use of funds. Specific proposals will be returned to the board for approval.
Strategic investments could cost between $ 15 million and $ 32 million. In total, municipal staff recommendations provide for a budget of $ 18 million to $ 38 million for emerging and strategic investments.
Initial estimates exceed the city’s allocation due to the likely overlap between city and county priorities. The Johnson County government is receiving $ 29.3 million under the law.
Fruin said a potential next step could be to organize a joint meeting between the Johnson County Board and Supervisory Board due to the close collaboration between the two governments to spend their respective ARPA funds. The county will hold its final public hearing on ARPA funds in late October.
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