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Community voices are essential to getting American Rescue Plan investments right

On Monday, the U.S. Treasury posted its interim rule to the Federal Register for how federal recovery funds from the American Rescue Plan can be spent by state and local governments. There is much detail to sift through, but a preliminary review should make clear two main points:

  • These dollars are meant to meet the needs in community that are a necessary foundation to a stronger, inclusive economy;
  • Meeting those needs requires understanding and listening to what people directly affected by the pandemic and downturn have experienced.

The latter point is notable for a U.S. Treasury rule. It recognizes that the transformative potential of the American Rescue Plan resides in aligning the investments to what people need. It rightly suggests that for our economy to recover, the health and well-being of people most impacted must be supported.

Community engagement can take many forms.

Notably, last spring N.C. House leadership created a public input process to hear what people and communities needed in order to deal with the unprecedented first blows of the pandemic. States are setting up similar processes — from surveys to public comment processes to listening sessions — and diverse stakeholders are coming together to develop a comprehensive vision.

North Carolina needs such a process. 

This week we were lucky to be part of a People’s Hearing on the American Rescue Plan where people from across the state — parents, grandparents, business owners, teachers, and early childhood educators — shared their experiences, their analysis, and their solutions. James Heyward, a CPA in Durham, and Fatima Fouse, a child-care professional from Burlington and activist with We Dream in Black in Durham, were two of the people who shared their voices during the People’s Hearing.

It was alarming to hear of the compounding harms borne by the people of our state and the persistent barriers that have remained because our policies and investments haven’t been sufficient or accessible. It was affirming to listen to the solutions that we can act on now.

The American Rescue Plan is an opportunity that we can’t miss. But ensuring that we maximize its potential requires a commitment to including people in the process. Together, we are more likely to achieve a better, more inclusive recovery.

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