American Rescue Plan

county perspectives
Rebecca Noecker City Council Member, Ward 2
columnist

The city of St. Paul has been allotted an extraordinary $166 million from the American Rescue Plan. This dramatic expansion of federal funding presents us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and an immense challenge to use these dollars wisely.
Over the next few months, we’ll need to decide as a community how to make the best possible use of this funding.  We need to prioritize investments that will have lasting impact in areas where we have the greatest need without creating long-term budget commitments that we can’t meet once the funding ends.
Here are a few ideas that I think are promising:
1. Invest in infrastructure: It’s no secret that our streets, sidewalks and sewers are in serious need of repair.  Every one of us can point to a missing tree, a pothole or a crumbling stairway that we simply haven’t been able to fill or fix.  A significant investment in our streets, sidewalks, broadband network and sewer and water systems will attract new residents and businesses, provide good-paying construction jobs and make our city more equitable, healthy and resilient.  Delaying this work only makes it more expensive.  Now that we have the funding, we must own up to our responsibility to future generations of St. Paul residents by doing this work now.
2. Expand home ownership: We know we need to dramatically expand our supply of affordable housing.  Affordable rental housing is important, but to create generational wealth and reduce racial disparities, we must do more to help people — and especially people of color —buy homes in St. Paul.  Only 24% of Black households in Minnesota own their home, compared with 77% of white households and, since 2000, white homeownership has remained stable while black homeownership has decreased.  We can not accept this reality. 
3. Promote neighborhood safety and mental health: We need to better serve our neighbors who are experiencing mental health crises and homelessness, and we need ways of promoting public safety that do not involve law enforcement.  In partnership with Ramsey County, we can use federal dollars to create a safe space for residents in crisis, expand training for our mental health co-responder team, launch alternatives to police response and create an Office of Neighborhood Safety, as proposed by our Community-First Public Safety Commission.
4. Help people find jobs and child care:  We can jumpstart our local economy by creating job training programs and apprenticeships for those who lost work during the pandemic, people returning from incarceration, young people and others. Access to high-quality child care is essential to allow parents to work and to get our littlest residents off to a great start.  We should use federal dollars to help families find and afford early childhood education.
5. Modernize city services: It’s long past time to bring our city government into the 21st century by allowing online and mobile-friendly payments for all city services and allowing for remote participation in public meetings.  As we emerge from the pandemic, we should also redesign our office spaces where necessary to ensure the health of our employees and the public.
I’m eager to hear what you think of these suggestions and what other ideas you have.  Please contact me at ward2@ci.stpaul.mn.us, call me at 651-266-8620.

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