Cleveland Loves Recovery Money


            Cleveland        Finding ourselves in Cleveland after meetings on the Voter Purge Project near Columbus and an ACORN training session with the Anthropocene Alliance, we looked up one of our former community organizers, Kris Harsh, to find out his perspective on Cleveland these days.  We met a local watering hole right across the street from his district, where he is now one of seventeen members on the elected Cleveland City Council.  This was going to be an interesting visit to get the perspective of an organizer from the other side of the table, so to speak, as an elected official, rather than as a target from whom we were demanding change.

Kris described himself as lucky, because when he was elected three years ago, he went into office when the city – for a change – had some money to spend, in fact more than $200 million.  Almost a generation of American community organizers know exactly the surprise and relief that Kris must have discovered, because since the devolution of revenues from the federal government to states beginning with Reagan and accelerating afterward through the Bushes, urban America has usually been starved of resources.  Block grants were gone or shrank.  Programs like Model Cities disappeared.  Cities in the Midwest and Northeast were particularly hurt as the manufacturing tax base continued to erode.

The big difference maker in Kris’ view was the more than half-billion dollars in American Rescue Plan Act or ARPA money Cleveland received, most of which was unspent and unallocated when he and others took office for their new terms.  A bunch of it had gone to debt and covering tax losses incurred in the pandemic, but there was still plenty left to allow the Mayor and Council to undertake new initiatives, allowing Council members to be able to say “Yes” for a change, where “No” had usually been the default.

Kris rattled off some of what he had found exciting.  Spending a bit over a million had eliminated medical debt for 40,000 people in Cleveland wiping out over $200 million that had been hanging over them and their credit.  They were able to put millions into lead abatement and remediation.  Affordable housing became a priority.  The Southside was targeted for huge expenditures.  They were even spending $10 million on expanding broadband internet coverage to people in the city.  Another $15 million went to demolish vacant and dilapidated structures and $10 million went towards making home repairs for citizens to prevent having to spend the other $15 million on tearing those houses down.

ARPA is not the same a Biden’s Infrastructure Act, because ARPA went to governments and the rebuilding money is going to manufacturing, jobs creation and other priorities, but in some ways both make the same point towards achieving the same ends.  Kris is making a point about Cleveland, but his recitation of how they are spending the money in Cleveland makes a bigger point nationally.  We have to use our tax dollars to invest in our cities and in creating real jobs.  This is something that many red-state legislators are missing when they try to pit rural areas against their urban neighbors.  We need all boats to rise, and they all set sail when they can float on lots of resources.  These kinds of investments pay dividends that will create wealth and change for decades.  It’s terrible that it took a pandemic to create these resources, but the real lesson is that we need to remember is that we need a massive financial recovery plan for cities across the country, if we’re really going to make America great