The American Rescue PLan Act (ARPA)

Congress passed the American Rescue Plan (ARPA): a historic opportunity to build back our communities and economy after the COVID-19 pandemic, while having the potential to address the deeply embedded inequities in access and voice in our democracy.

Using community-led decision making to distribute ARPA funds will help ensure investments match real community needs. Practices like participatory budgeting can increase equity, access, and accountability in spending decisions, transforming and deepening democracy as we build back better.

Introducing our Community-Led Recovery Awardees!

The DBE coalition launched an RFP to distribute grants to organizations using participatory democracy practices to distribute ARPA funds in their community.

These organizations have been working to advocate for and implement participatory practices in the allocation of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. Each organization received $10,000 to carry out their work, in addition to shared learning and capacity building opportunities. 

Read on to learn more about what these organizations have accomplished! 

ARPA funds can be be used for grassroots campaigns, education, and organizing work in any of the areas listed below. The RFP is now closed, but you can view the RFP FAQ to learn more. 

📍 Miami, FL

Working with community members to shape a participatory budgeting (PB) process rooted in investments that center Black lives, and advocating for it with city officials.

📍 Central Falls, RI

Creating materials to support participatory budgeting in schools, sharing information via national webinar and blog about the PB process with federal ESSER funds, supporting the school system in engagement on ESSER spending plan.

📍 Cleveland, OH

Supporting an election season event that broadens awareness of PB and writing an implementation plan for PB in Cleveland (which is a common request from elected officials).

📍 Las Cruces, NM

Conducting a campaign to educate community members, elected officials, and City staff about participatory budgeting, targeted to impact how the second round of ARPA funding gets allocated.

📍 Oregon

Supporting youth with civic education and engagement as they launch the first phase of a youth-led PB campaign to allocate $690,000 of ARPA funds.

📍 Phoenix, AZ

Advocating for school participatory budgeting (PB) using ARPA/ESSER funds in schools and school districts, implementing a pilot of school PB with federal ESSER funds, producing and disseminating best practices and lessons learned in their efforts. 

📍 Rochester, NY

Engaging in deep community education and organizing around bringing PB to Rochester, building a coalition of allied organizations, and engaging with elected officials at all levels of government.

📍 Humboldt County, CA

Training community members in their Latinx Community Health Worker project, Comunidad Unida del Norte de Arcata (CUNA), in how to organize and advocate for participatory budgeting.

📍 Bronx, NY

Engaging Bronx residents around ARP funding and its connection to their Bronx-wide, long-term participatory planning process..

📍 Buffalo, NY

Creating a campaign to help impacted residents in Buffalo evaluate their local government’s commitment to community-led decision making, anchored by a coalition of diverse organizations from across the city.

See the ARPA Case Studies

What is Participatory Democracy?

Participatory democracy extends beyond community surveys, advisory committees and public forums by placing real decision-making power in communities. Participatory democracy includes many tools for community-led decision making, including participatory policy-making, deliberative assemblies and referendums, and participatory budgeting. For the purpose of this document, we will focus on participatory budgeting as a central best practice for meaningfully engaging communities in budgetary decisions.

What is Participatory Budgeting (PB)?

Community members decide how to spend part of a public budget. It gives people real power over real money. It is a democratic process that builds stronger communities and makes public budgets more equitable, effective, and aligned with community members’ priorities.

Interested in learning more?

What is ARPA?

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is an expansive $1.9 trillion package to help people cope with the economic and public health fallout of the pandemic, that includes direct financial assistance to families and individuals, infrastructure investments, and pandemic response.

$350 billion will be passed down to states, local governments, and tribal governments. Your community can participate and have a say in where this funding goes. To ensure funding responds to the wide range of community needs and advance COVID-19 recovery, the federal government has given local jurisdictions discretion in how to spend ARPA funds.

Why involve the community?

  • With renewed energy and emphasis placed on equity and accessibility in COVID-19 recovery, participatory democracy presents a way to directly empower and center communities most often left out of the decisions that impact their lives.

  • Local communities know their own needs best and can make decisions that fulfill their values.

  • Participatory budgeting can help ensure that community members most impacted by COVID-19 have a direct say in where resources go. With millions, and in some cases billions, of dollars flowing into local government budgeting processes, this is an unprecedented opportunity for communities to participate in how budget decisions are made.

  • Community engagement will be a key ARPA reporting requirement of receiving and spending funds—and governments must report how they used community input in their spending decisions. In order to truly serve communities hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic and legacies of inequity, community engagement must be equitable, accessible, and significant. Participatory democracy ensures that we do not stop at engagement, but make sure that participation is meaningful and yields real decision-making power for communities.

About Reporting Requirements

State and local governments are required to report on how their use of funding incorporates “input that capture[s] diverse feedback from constituents, community-based organizations, and the communities themselves.” according to the Dept of the Treasury. State education agencies (SEA) are required to “engage in meaningful consultation with various stakeholder groups… and take such input into account.” According to the Department of Education, SEAs are required to consult with students, families, Tribes (if applicable), civil rights organizations, teachers and administrators, and other stakeholders (particularly stakeholders who represent underserved students).
1. Dept. of Treasury, Compliance and Reporting Guide: State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (p. 25)
2. Department of Education, ARP ESSER Interim Final Rule.

Key Questions (FAQ)

Yes! For State and Local Fiscal Recovery funds: While many jurisdictions may have spending plans in place, many will receive a second round of funding in 2022. See where your locality is in their funding cycle.

Funds do not have to be allocated until the end of 2024, so our communities don’t have to rush through this process.

Educate your community about what participatory budgeting is – one tool within the participatory democracy tool box. Share this information sheet with your electeds and communities!

Sign up for updates from Democracy Beyond Elections including campaign updates from the coalition.

You can use the Participatory Budgeting Project’s “Scoping Toolkit” to understand what key steps launching a successful PB process entails.

Check out this map of past and current participatory budgeting processes in North America to find out who might already be working on participatory budgeting in your city.

Even if your representatives have a plan in place, advocating for participatory democracy now can create the public will and infrastructure for using community-led decision making practices to make decisions on future spending bills, policies, and other decisions that impact your community.

Local Example:
Grand Rapids, MI

Community-led decision making is underway in Grand Rapids, Michigan where $2 million of ARPA funding will
be allocated by participatory budgeting process. They have convened their steering committee with representatives
from each of the cities three wards and will focus idea collection and proposal development on 5 key priority
areas: violence reduction, public safety co-response, housing affordability, broadband access and COVID-19 economic impacts. Learn more about the Grand Rapids, MI PB process.

Other Resources

Priorities for Spending the American Rescue Plan’s State and Local Fiscal
Recovery Funds, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, May 2021

What is Participatory Budgeting?, Participatory Budgeting Project

American Rescue Plan Act Funding Breakdown, National Association of Counties

Have questions about how to have community involvement distributing ARPA funds in your community?