FederalLocal NewsTaxes & SpendingTarrant County, Fort Worth Examine How to Use $600 Million in Federal COVID-19 Funds

With nearly $600 million flowing in Tarrant County and Fort Worth from the federal government, local leaders will decide over the next several weeks which projects they will spend the funds on.
June 16, 2021
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The Tarrant County Commissioners Court and the Fort Worth City Council will spend the next several meetings determining how to spend the nearly $600 million that has been allocated to them by the federal government through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Tarrant County expects to receive over $400 million in what it calls “fiscal recovery funds.” Fort Worth will receive $174 million. Both have received the first half of the funds with the second half set to be disbursed next year.

These funds are only part of the subsidies being received by local governments in North Texas.  For example, Fort Worth ISD’s allocation is $262 million, and Trinity Metro’s allocation is $39 million.

The State of Texas is receiving over $16 billion in ARPA funds which will be allocated by the legislature during a special session this fall.  

Billions of more dollars are also offered through other more specialized categories including those targeted for public health, education, small businesses, childcare, and housing insecurity. 

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The federal government has established parameters for local government spending, including restrictions against paying principal or interest on indebtedness, making extraordinary pension deposits, or financing settlements or judgments. 

Additionally, the ARPA funds must be obligated to projects by December 31, 2024, and all of the money spent and projects completed by December 31, 2026. 

Both the city and county can use the funds for public health needs including expenses for personal protective equipment, medical care, staffing, and addressing disparities in health outcomes.

Based on negative economic impacts, ARPA funds can be used to provide assistance to businesses and households, including legal aid and rental assistance, and to help reinvigorate tourism. 

For essential workers, not just those employed by governments, the city and county can provide limited premium pay. County Judge Glen Whitley expressed concern about the broadness of this category and managing it and suggested it be low on the priority list for spending.

Infrastructure investments for sewer, water, and broadband are allowed with ARPA funds. Both City Council Member Cary Moon and Whitley expressed interest in this category.

“So if you are doing something with the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers to mitigate flooding, you could use it for that,” Whitley suggested.

The Central City Flood Control Project, often referred to as Panther Island, is a joint project with the Corps of Engineers that has struggled to reach completion for lack of funding.

Both entities are also allowed to use ARPA funds for lost revenue. These expenditures can only be for projects that were delayed due to COVID-19.

Tarrant County will host multiple work sessions from June through August to include community leaders and stakeholders.

“I can’t stress enough how much I want the community involved in this,” Whitley told the county staff.

Fort Worth will likely approve the overall appropriation of the $86 million it has already received at the June 22 meeting, but then will return to council over the summer for approval of specific projects.

It has established five guiding principles for spending the ARPA funds: one-time uses that don’t increase ongoing operating costs, projects with a strong return on investment, expenses directly tied to mitigating the impacts of COVID-19, projects delayed by COVID-19, and projects in majority minority areas.

Both Tarrant County and Fort Worth city leaders expressed desires to coordinate with other local governments in using funds most effectively.

For instance, Councilwoman Gyna Bivens urged coordination with the Fort Worth ISD on broadband expansion.

“We need to be wary about the capacity of getting the money out the door and the projects done,” Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa mentioned to the council.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.