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Cleveland City Council considers $53 million federal stimulus spending plan

Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin looks through a plexiglass barrier as Mayor Justin Bibb speaks during budget hearings in February.
Nick Castele
/
Ideastream Public Media
Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin listens to Mayor Justin Bibb during budget hearings in February.

Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin is proposing to spend $53 million in federal stimulus funds on housing programs, public health and safety initiatives and other uses.

Griffin circulated a draft of spending ideas with council colleagues at a caucus meeting Monday. The proposal would appropriate what remains of the first half of Cleveland’s $512 million allocation under the American Rescue Plan Act [ARPA].

Although council has fielded funding requests from “all over the spectrum,” Griffin said, he wants to focus this chunk of ARPA spending on core issues facing Cleveland.

“This is not going to be able to go to a bunch of economic development projects,” Griffin said. “This is really to try to make sure that we focus on critical city services and services that are needed to impact our families and children.”

The biggest items on the list would help people afford to repair or build new houses. Griffin is proposing $15 million for home repair programs and $10 million to cover the gap between construction costs and appraisal values. Another $5 million would support Habitat for Humanity’s repair programs.

Other housing items include $5 million in rental assistance and $1 million for the right-to-counsel program that represents low-income tenants in housing court.

Griffin also proposes spending ARPA money on violence intervention and early childhood programs. The list includes $1 million on violence interrupters and another million on a University Hospitals program for the victims of violence.

Under the council president’s proposal, the city would give $2 million to Birthing Beautiful Communities, a nonprofit that works to reduce Black infant mortality. Another $3 million would help the Pre4CLE initiative to explore universal pre-kindergarten in Cleveland.

The council president’s plan also includes $5 million for “arts and culture support.” Arts organizations have been lobbying the city for a share of the ARPA dollars.

Read the full list here.

The final spending package still must be hashed out with Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration and passed by council, perhaps as soon as mid-July, Griffin said. The full list totals $56 million, meaning that council will have to whittle down the draft proposal before passage.

Several top staffers from the mayor’s office attended the more than three-hour meeting Monday afternoon.

Bradford Davy, the mayor’s chief strategy officer, told council he had several questions about the spending plan. Among them: how can the city impartially evaluate the spending requests, how can it avoid creating unfunded mandates when the money runs out and how can the city leverage outside investment.

“That’s the work that this administration hopes that we can do collaboratively,” Davy said.

Council has already approved about $203 million in ARPA spending, including $23.4 for public safety, $20 million for broadband access and $17 million to fix lead paint hazards in homes. Former Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration used $108 million to make up for lost revenue.

The city receives the second half of its ARPA allocation this year.

Nick Castele is a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media.