By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Help has arrived.
That was a message U.S. Rep. Terri A. Sewell delivered during several stops around the Birmingham metro area as she touted benefits of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan for cities and local governments across Jefferson County.
“I am thrilled to announce Jefferson County will receive over $127 million and the City of Birmingham will receive over $148 million provided by the historic American Rescue Plan,” said Sewell Monday. “Today’s visit reinforced the necessity for the critical funding provided by the American Rescue Plan. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, these cities and counties have been on the front lines working tirelessly with little to no resources to ensure that their communities survive this pandemic.”
More than $500 million will flow through cities and counties in Sewell’s Seventh Congressional District. In addition to Birmingham and Jefferson County that includes Birmingham City Schools ($120 million) and Jefferson County schools ($69.7 million).
At Birmingham City Hall, Sewell was joined by Mayor Randall Woodfin and spoke about the importance of the money the city will receive – especially during the pandemic.
“We know that we have been in the middle of a global pandemic that has not only affected our lives, but our livelihoods and we know that in Alabama we have lost 10,000 Alabamians to this virus,” said Sewell. “In order to crush this virus, we know that essential services provided by the City of Birmingham are critically important. We know that many of our localities and local government have lost a lot of revenue because of this pandemic… I just want to say that help is finally here.”
Sewell, the lone member of Alabama’s delegation to vote for the Rescue Plan, said the funding couldn’t come at a better time.
“ . . . we’ve seen doubled unemployment numbers and we understand that is going to take more than just prayer thoughts to get us back on our feet,” she said. “I am thrilled that we in Congress, led by President Biden and Vice President Harris, . . . were to provide the much-needed resources that this country needs in order to get back on its feet.”
The American Rescue Plan also extends unemployment insurance, increases SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and child tax benefits and contains $1,400 for eligible Americans.
Cities can receive their funding within 60 days of the enactment of the bill which happened on March 11. Sewell said Birmingham can expect to receive their first half of the money by May and remainder by next year. All funds must be spent by December 31, 2024.
Woodfin said the city is still waiting for “final guidance” and how the money will be spent but there will be priorities. “Chief among them is our commitment to the continued service and sacrifice to all of our city employees who we are so grateful for and everything they’ve done,” he said. “They have answered the call as our first responders, they’ve continued to work to keep our communities clean and have supported small businesses to help them survive.
“We are looking to support our city employees whether through a lump sum or a one-time COVID service payment. We’ll base our actions on that guidance as we consider this and several other initiatives.”
The mayor said money would also go into neighborhood revitalization and investing in small and minority-owned businesses.
“That has been a main priority, centered around citywide campaign to construct new, affordable homes and a create the largest direct investment in small and Black businesses in the history of our community and city and create the necessary energy and environment for entrepreneurs to thrive,” he said. “We’ll also provide support to our youth by investing in an intensive summer learning program… [also] I think it is also important we invest in community-led partnerships to help our law enforcement professionals interrupt the cycle of crime and violence in our communities.”
At the downtown Jefferson County Courthouse, Sewell met with county officials including Commissioner Sheila Tyson.
“Congresswoman Sewell is trying to help all the citizens in Jefferson County as a whole whether you are a Democrat or Republican,” Tyson said. “. . .when you look at these funds it can change the quality of life for Alabama not just one group. We have something in place that will help everyone.”
Tyson said small businesses owners and homeowners can also benefit.
“This is an opportunity to help so many people that are struggling, get their business at the level it needs to be,” she said. “They can do that through this Rescue Plan. People can get necessary repairs . . . all of that can happen. This will help mental health programs, [medical research] programs that is part of the Rescue plan.”
Rep. Sewell’s American Rescue Plan District Tour is a series of site visits, roundtable discussions, and constituency meetings to connect residents of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District will continue through Friday, April 9.
Among other things, Sewell says The American Rescue Plan will:
- Put Vaccines in Arms: The plan has created a $20 billion national vaccination program that includes setting up community vaccination sites nationwide and addressing disparities facing communities of color. It also takes complementary measures to combat the virus, including scaling up testing and tracing, addressing shortages of personal protective equipment and other critical supplies, investing in high-quality treatments, and addressing health care disparities.
- Put Money in Pockets: The plan finishes the job on the President’s promise to provide $2,000 in direct assistance to households across America with checks of $1,400 per person, following the $600 down payment enacted in December. The plan will also provide direct housing assistance, nutrition assistance for 40 million Americans, expand access to safe and reliable childcare and affordable health care, extend unemployment insurance so that 18 million American workers can pay their bills and support 27 million children with an expanded Child Tax Credit and more than 17 million low-wage workers through an improved Earned Income Tax Credit.
- Put Children Safely Back in School: The plan delivers $170 billion for education and $45 billion for childcare providers. This includes a $130 billion investment in K-12 school re-opening and making up for lost time in the classroom, with funds that can be used for such things as reducing class sizes, modifying spaces so that students and teachers can socially distance, improving ventilation, implementing more mitigation measures, providing personal protective equipment, and providing summer school or other support for students that help make up lost learning time this year. The plan also provides more than $40 billion for higher education.
- Put People Back In Jobs: The plan will provide crucial support for the hardest-hit small businesses, especially those owned by entrepreneurs from racial and ethnic backgrounds that have experienced systemic discrimination, with EIDL grants, expanded PPP eligibility and more. The plan also provides crucial resources to protect the jobs of first responders, frontline public health workers, teachers, transit workers and other essential workers that all Americans depend on.