Rescue funds should help us better weather next health crisis

This month, cities across Allen County will receive  stipends from the recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act. If spent wisely, these dollars will provide a bulwark against future public health crises.

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Opinion

June 10, 2021 - 9:08 AM

U.S. President Joe Biden, center, and Vice President Kamala Harris meet with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and other Democratic senators to discuss his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in the Oval Office at the White House on Feb. 3, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

This month, cities across Allen County will receive  stipends from the recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act.

In alphabetical order, here are their amounts: Bassett, $3,186, population 21; Elsmore, $10,164, population 67; Gas, $76,005, population 501; Humboldt, $268,368, population 1,769; Iola, $798,886, population 5,266; LaHarpe, $80,404, population 530; Moran, $77,370, population 510, and Savonburg, $15,626, population, 103.

The municipalities are expected to receive the relief money in two chunks: any day now and another a year later. 

As a separate entity, Allen County will receive a little more than $2.4 million.

Both cities and the county have until 2024 to spend the funds.

The SPARK Task Force, a bipartisan committee formed in May 2020 that has been revamped to address the Rescue Plan, will help oversee how cities spend the funds. SPARK stands for Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas.

Lt. Gov. David Toland

Former Iolan and current Lt. Gov. David Toland chairs the seven-member committee, of which three are private citizens.

Its goal is to not only help communities recover from the pandemic but also build more resilient economies for the future, according to Gov. Laura Kelly.

The money may be spent in several ways, including on Covid-related public health and economic aid projects; replenishing revenue lost to the pandemic and on sewer, broadband and water infrastructure projects.

For example, the Kansas Department of Transportation took advantage of 2020 federal coronavirus relief funds by doubling its investment in road and bridge construction projects through its Cost Share Program. Now in the fourth funding cycle, KDOT is investing $21 million with a 50/50 match. Demand was strong, with 117 communities requesting more than $103 million in funding.

It’s that partnering that makes the dollars go further. 

If the state were to match a town’s federal aid then larger projects could be accomplished. 

Because while the funds are generous, they are not substantial enough to undertake major projects, such as a city’s sewer or stormwater system. 

ADDRESSING systemic public health challenges, is a deeper dive.

Equal access to the necessary resources to protect against and respond to COVID-19 is not universal. Even now, the virus continues to kill hundreds of people daily. By late May, there were still nearly 2,500 weekly deaths attributed to Covid-19. Allen County currently has four cases. More than half of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. It’s the remaining unvaccinated population that is driving the lingering deaths, experts say. 

Rural areas, communities of color, low-income populations, and other underserved communities are the most impacted. 

Kansas legislators bear a big responsibility for this by refusing to expand Medicaid, the health insurance program for the indigent and disabled. Research shows that 6 in 10 of uninsured adults could qualify for insurance if the program were expanded.

To date, 39 states have adopted Medicaid expansion. Our omission is shameful. 

This pandemic will not be our last public health crisis and now is the best time to prepare for the next. 

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