ICYMI: Athens Mayor Praises Local Impacts of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan

November 1, 2021

Mayor Girtz: ‘As somebody who worked in public education for 20 years, things like the child tax credit and universal pre-K are going to have multi-generational benefits.’

This weekend, Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz sat down with the University of Georgia’s The Red and Black to discuss how President Biden’s American Rescue Plan has helped their community recover and rebuild from the pandemic. In the interview, Mayor Girtz applauded President Biden and Democrats’ work passing the relief package without a single Republican vote and shared how Athens has used the funding to ramp up vaccinations, provide housing assistance, and more.

Read the full story from The Red and Black here:

The Red and Black: Athens mayor breaks down local effects of American Rescue Plan

By Jake Drukman

  • On March 11, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law, committing $1.9 trillion in federal funding to aid the country’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Athens-Clarke County received about $67 million in funding as a result of the bill, Athens Mayor Kelly Girtz said.
  • The Red & Black interviewed Girtz on how the money has impacted the community thus far, and what Athenians can expect to come from the funding in the future.
  • ARPA allocated over $100 billion to be distributed to cities and counties across the country. As a unified city-county government, Athens-Clarke County was eligible to receive both, totaling around $58 million. ARPA also provided the county with $7 million for public transportation, as well as another $2 million for housing assistance and support for people experiencing homelessness, Girtz said.
  • Girtz said the $2 million aid for housing was significant, and that the county also plans to spend some of the $58 million in city-county funding on housing.
  • “We saw our unsheltered homeless population on the streets more than double in the past 18 months,” Girtz said. “It’s critical that we be able to scoop up those folks as quickly as possible to get people back on the path of wellness.”
  • The county began to put the $7 million in transportation funding from ARPA to use by extending fare-free bus service, which began early into the pandemic last year. Currently, the transit system is set to be fare-free until June 30, 2022. Girtz emphasized that this would help those who need to get to work or get groceries get around more easily.
  • Girtz said one of the biggest things the county has been able to accomplish with ARPA funding is encouraging the community to get vaccinated against COVID-19. He touted the county’s relatively low mortality rate throughout the pandemic. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, Clarke County has seen 171 COVID-19 deaths throughout the pandemic, compared to a total case count of just over 20,000.
  • “It’s kind of the most foundational question of life or death,” Girtz said. “We’ve been heavily incentivizing vaccination, and every person who gets vaccinated becomes less of a factor for COVID spread.”
  • Even with all the projects that have already been passed, Girtz said the county hasn’t spent the majority of the funds from ARPA. With some of the remaining funding, he said the county is committed to aiding small, minority-owned businesses and providing more aid for the homeless and housing-insecure.
  • “If you want to do something successfully, you need to plan and tee up those expenditures. You don’t want to just wildly spend money, you know, like you’re Oprah throwing cash into the audience,” Girtz said.
  • Girtz, a Democrat, said the county has been lucky that the Democrat-controlled Congress was able to pass ARPA. While former President Donald Trump’s administration passed the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, Girtz said funds from the CARES Act had to be spent in a much faster timeline. 
  • He said the county spent the funds as successfully as it could under the time restrictions, but wasn’t able to be as careful as he would have liked. Coronavirus Relief Fund money from the CARES Act initially had a spending deadline of Dec. 30, 2020, although on Dec. 27, 2020, the Trump administration extended the deadline until the end of 2021. Funds from ARPA do not have to be designated until the end of 2024, and do not have to be spent until the end of 2026.
  • Girtz also said he was thankful that ARPA sent money directly to local governments, as CARES funds initially went to the state to distribute.
  • “We were going to be receiving somewhere north of $20 million of CARES funds,” Girtz said. “But at the 11th hour, the Kemp administration kept two-thirds of the money for state purposes, and those dollars never went to local governments, obviously to my great frustration.”
  • With the 2022 midterm elections approaching and Democrats in Congress barely holding on to their majorities, Girtz spoke highly of what the Biden administration has accomplished since the president took office.
  • “As somebody who worked in public education for 20 years, things like the child tax credit and universal pre-K is going to have multi-generational benefits,” Girtz said. “If you care about kids being well cared for and you want them to become successful adults, you need to pull the ballot for the Democratic candidate that you see on the screen.”


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