By James Cirrone

President Joe Biden signs the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act on March 11, 2021.
Courtesy: The White House

College Park is set to receive millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) at the end of the month. Mayor Patrick Wojahn and the city council discussed how to use the incoming funds in a July 13 virtual work session.

Councilmember Fazlul Kabir (District 1) said that ARPA funds will simultaneously dig the city out of its financial hole and help residents.

“This is a huge opportunity for us to invest,” Kabir said, noting the funds could also be used “to recover from what we have lost due to the COVID pandemic.”

City officials still aren’t certain how much money College Park will receive, but interim City Manager Bill Gardiner said he expects nearly $22 million, the first half of which is scheduled to arrive by the end of July.

Gardiner first suggested using ARPA funds to pay off the city’s financial losses, which total over $8.6 million.

Next, Gardiner proposed that $9 million should go to grant assistance. Four main categories of grants will be established, including hotels and tourism, restaurants, nonprofit food banks and food delivery services such as Meals on Wheels, and other small businesses and nonprofits.

Mayor Wojahn said he doesn’t know yet how the $9 million will be broken down between these four categories.

Kabir and Councilmember Maria Mackie (District 4) noted their support for funding Meals on Wheels. Back in September 2020, 175 people were relying on Meals on Wheels to get them food daily. Meals on Wheels has since moved to a location in Riverdale Park.

“They have left College Park, and it’s an excellent organization that has been supporting College Park residents in need for many, many years now,” said Kabir.

Mayor Wojahn said that since nonprofits are listed as part of the grant assistance program, Meals on Wheels and similar nonprofit charities will have a chance to apply for benefits.

In addition to helping nonprofits and small businesses, the American Rescue Plan Act will allow College Park to spend money on capital projects. Capital projects include the renovations to Duvall Field and City Hall, and road improvements.

“Yes, we can do some additional street and road improvements with these additional funds,” Director of Finance Gary Fields said.

Mackie, near the end of the discussion, raised the issue of how the funds from the ARPA will actually end up in the hands of the people who need it.

“There’s still a lot of people that are unemployed, or people having problems getting food and clothing,” Mackie said. “So how, exactly, would we be able to use the ARPA funds to help families?”

Gardiner suggested the city would funnel money through existing support services organizations instead of creating new programs. Fields added that when people had to apply for benefits through the CARES Act, many didn’t finish the paperwork.

“They felt like it was too burdensome, too invasive of their privacy,” Fields said. “So, we definitely want to try to find ways to get these people money that they need. That’s what we need to come up with in the next few weeks.”