Washington D.C. (March 25, 2021) - United States Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) along with six other senators and 26 other members of the House of Representatives, sent a letter requesting Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen use discretion in issuing guidance for American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to support non-entitlement cities that have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawmakers also ask that the Treasury work with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Census Bureau to ensure that population and other relevant community data are accurate and up to date.

Last week, Senators Markey, Warren, and Congresswoman Pressley along with members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, urged Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to use the discretion provided by Congress and President Biden in the ARP to immediately target the $4.5 billion in the Commonwealth's direct federal aid to disproportionately affected communities. In a Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing yesterday, Secretary Yellen confirmed states should have the authority to allocate ARP funds to communities hard hit by COVID-19. 

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan provides $350 billion for state and local governments to pay for essential services, retain frontline workers, offset lost revenues and increased costs from the COVID-19 pandemic, and help rebuild Main Street economies. Throughout the coronavirus crisis, Senator Warren has fought hard to ensure that this relief reaches those that have been on the frontlines on this pandemic, including our communities of color that have been hardest hit by this public health emergency.

"Congress built ARP in a way to help non-entitlement cities by allocating billions in aid to our state governments.  Most states will be receiving billions of dollars and every state is guaranteed a significant allocation.  This state funding is designed to give governors and state legislatures the flexibility to provide extra help to the communities that did not qualify for other larger pots of direct funding," the lawmakers wrote.

The ARP uses the existing Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) statutory formula to determine the amount of direct assistance provided to each community. Under the CDBG formula, metropolitan cities with populations of at least 50,000 as determined by census data receive a substantial allocation of ARP federal assistance. Some municipalities can also qualify for designation without meeting the population threshold if they are considered principal cities in Metropolitan Statistical Areas with populations greater than 50,000, and pursuant to the Housing and Community Development Act, they qualify for direct entitlement funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Unfortunately, under this formula, some cities and towns are just out of reach of qualifying for the metro city designation, resulting in these communities receiving significantly less targeted relief than their similarly populated neighbors. In some cases, these non-entitlement cities  are communities of color and immigrant communities, which have been historically undercounted by the census that ultimately determines metro city status. Some of these communities have experienced a disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that they will need additional support from the federal funds that have been allocated to their state governments. Under ARP, state governments received a separate funding allocation of federal money that was flexibly designed to help our hardest hit communities.  Specifically, the bill says the state ARP funding allocation can be used to "respond to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) or its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses, and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries. . ."  

"We know that you share our concerns about ensuring that these federal dollars are directed to our most vulnerable populations to help them recover from the economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession. It is critical that you work alongside Congress to develop an approach that mitigates the inequitable distribution of desperately-needed funding," the lawmakers concluded.

The bicameral letter is also signed by Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Representatives Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.), James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Andy Levin (D-Mich.), Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), Susan Wild (D-Penn.), Jesús G. "Chuy" García (D-Ill.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), Josh Harder (D-Calif.), Sean Casten (D-Ill.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Tom Malinowski (D-N.J), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.), Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), William J. Keating (D-Mass.), and Brenda L. Lawrence (D-Mich.), and Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.).