The American Rescue Plan Act: A Primer on Spending

Posted by Angela Sarno on Oct 6, 2021 9:24:50 AM

John Wilkerson is so passionate about the American Rescue Plan Act it feels like family to him.

"This has become my life's work," he says. "I will not have any more kids, I can't imagine, but if I do I will name it ARPA after the American Rescue Plan Act."

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Listen to our entire podcast with John Wilkerson here.

If you think he's kidding, guess again. Wilkerson has served the last 15 years as general counsel to the Arkansas Municipal League and takes great pride in helping 500 cities and towns across Arkansas develop and implement strategies to become stronger financially.

ARPA was passed by Congress in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, and while one big bucket of the funding must go towards fighting Covid, there's much more that can be done with the money that Congress has allocated.

"(ARPA) is a once in a generation, perhaps once in a lifetime, direct federal funding stream to cities and towns and counties and states of America," Wilkerson said. 

"Every state is getting this sort of money, every city, every county, every town, every township, every borough. Whatever every other state calls their local government is getting this money. We haven't seen the likes of it I think since the Johnson administration," he continued.

Besides money allocated to fight Covid, ARPA also provides premium pay for employees who have been on the front lines as well as funds for projects to support water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

Cities, towns, counties and states can also use ARPA funds in situations where they have lost revenue due to the pandemic. Wilkerson says these "lost revenue" funds can be used in the event of a decrease in sales tax revenue as well any other way the entity may have lost revenue- right down to concession stand sales at a little league tournament.

And for these funds, there's wide latitude in determining what you can spend it on. 

Watch a 2 minute clip of John discussing lost revenue:

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"Unless you're buying a trip to Barbados for your family," Wilkerson says. "You're going to be able to use the lost revenue money for really anything." 

Among the many government services mentioned in a FAQ on the Federal treasury's website is "modernization of cybersecurity, including hardware, software, and protection of critical infrastructure."

Wilkerson is determined to make sure the cities he provides counsel to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunity to pour money into cybersecurity.

"So what we say is, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, probably a ton of cure, in the cybersecurity world. So we're really pushing this a lot." - John Wilkerson, General Counsel, Arkansas Municipal League

"We're very mindful of making sure that cybersecurity is emphasized around the cities and towns because we've seen how it could negatively impact you," Wilkerson said. "So what we say is, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, probably a ton of cure, in the cybersecurity world. So we're really pushing this a lot."

Wilkerson doesn't view devoting ARPA funds to cybersecurity as a luxury that lags far behind helping health-care workers or visible infrastructure. Small towns that depend on broadband access for its citizens are just as susceptible to fraud as larger municipalities.

"It's those sort of smaller towns that don't think of themselves as risks that really become the risk," he said. "Getting us over that hurdle of understanding and demystifying cybersecurity is probably the number one goal for us."

Arkansas isn't alone in pushing the use of ARPA funds to build up security infrastructure. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns recently published a brochure that provided four reasons why they should use ARPA money for cybersecurity improvements:

  1. Save time, money, and your reputation. 
  2. Because municipalities are definitely targets. 
  3. Now is the time with ARPA funds available because cyber improvements are crucial and absolutely worth it. 
  4. Make investments now to address known deficiencies.

The bottom line is that the more cities realize ARPA funds are available to them, the more they can protect themselves from bad actors who don't discriminate when choosing who their next victim will be. 

"The way we look at it [cybersecurity] doesn't have to cost your city or town a whole lot of money," Wilkerson said. "It's not a big investment to get started to really start the process of understanding how to better protect your city or town."

For more insights into ARPA funds and lost revenue uses, listen to our entire podcast with John Wilkerson here.


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Topics: risk, Cyber Security

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