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Communities Use Participatory Budgeting to Allocate ARPA Funds: A Case Study in Participatory Democracy

New York, NY – Congress passed the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) to support our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. These funds present a historic opportunity to not only build back our communities and economy, but also to address the deeply embedded inequities related to access and voice in our democracy.

Since last year, Democracy Beyond Elections–a coalition made up of national groups, state-based nonprofits, and grassroots local organizations–has been helping communities across the nation use participatory budgeting (PB) to allocate ARPA money. This initiative has increased equity, access, and accountability in spending decisions and deepened democracy in the recovery process. From places like rural Meadville, PA to Grand Rapids, MI to Humboldt County, CA, people in many different types of communities around the country are experiencing the impact of real community-led decision-making power.

  • In Central Falls, RI, students have used ARPA money to expand pre-existing PB processes–specifically around funding crucial and creative after-school programs.
  • In Arizona schools, where PB had already been underway before the pandemic, ARPA funds are allowing this critical work to expand to an additional 60,000 students.
  • In Oregon, young people are launching the first phase of a youth-led PB campaign to allocate $690,000 of ARPA funds.

“ARPA and PB go hand-in-hand,” says Elizabeth Crews, Director of Democracy Beyond Elections, Participatory Budgeting Project. “These are case studies in what is possible when both communities and the elected officials who represent them work together to challenge business as usual. It’s about fundamentally transforming the way money moves.”

Though no two PB processes are the same, what they have in common is direct participation from the people most impacted by local, state and federal budgeting decisions. In this way, they are an example of best practices in participatory democracy.

More information on these processes can be found here. Key staff related to these efforts are available for questions or comments upon request.

Contact Information:

Rahel Teka (she/her, they/them)

Communications Manager, Participatory Budgeting Project, 347-759-6747


We must ensure that the decisions reached by community-led decision-making processes are taken seriously, honored, and implemented transparently. Community-led decision-making processes should hold real tangible value — not be relegated to trivial and theoretical exercises. They should have power over significant budgets or policies. True participatory democracy requires that committees or councils are not just “surveys” to gauge attitudes and views – followed by a business as usual process where people already in power go behind closed doors to make the final decision. In order to be transformational, community-led decision-making processes must have teeth and transparency — from beginning to end, including implementation.


We must equip community members with the tools, knowledge, and information they need to meaningfully participate. It is not enough to say that everyone can participate. We must create the conditions in our processes that make it so everyone can participate. This means community-led decision making processes that provide and center access needs including but not limited to language access, disability access, and economic access. This requires us to ensure that processes are built with community so that they take into account the access to technology, meeting times and locations, and even modes of communication that work for the particular community. Barriers to participation like age, citizenship, registering to vote, location, should be directly addressed and removed.


We must ensure that if you live in the community, you have a role and a voice in how decisions are made – and in making them. Unlike traditional elections, which are filled with barriers to participation, community-led decision making centers directly impacted community members.

Participatory democracy requires that folks left out of traditional election-centered democracy, including but not limited to Black communities, immigrants, and formerly and currently incarcerated folks, are centered in both the leadership of participatory practices and their outcomes.

We must ensure that community-led decision-making processes center and serve the needs of most impacted communities — from outreach, participation, and voice, through to implementation.