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A few thoughts about the proposals submitted to Kent County for use of the American Rescue Plan Act funds: Funding business as usual

September 22, 2022

The Kent County Government recently posted all of the proposals submitted by organizations who are seeking to access some of the $127.6 million in COVID-19 stimulus funding that Kent County received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Remember, this is public money. You can go to this link to view the 319 different proposals. 

The proposals have been broken down into categories, such as Affordable Housing, Art & Culture, Broadband, Business Grants, Community Center, DEI, Disability Services, Education, Energy & Environment, Food & Nutrition, Government Services, Homeless Support, Hospitality, Immigrant Services, Lead, Medical Care, Mental Health, Parks & Recreation, Public Safety, Roads and Transportation, Rockford Ice and Turf, Senior Citizen Support, Substance Abuse, Water and Sewer.

After reviewing all 319 proposals, here are 7 points I would like to make.

First, there are numerous proposals around issues like mental health, food & nutrition and housing that are from organizations that one would expect to submit ideas. Many of these proposals offer particular social services, services that are needed, but there are only a few proposals that address root causes of serious social problems – more on this at the end.

Second, then there are proposals that center workforce development. Most of these proposals are from the business community or business associations. For example, Experience GR submitted a proposal to expand the workforce in the hospitality industry. Part of this project would involve partnering with the GRPS, specifically Ottawa Hills High School to develop a hospitality academy. This would target students that are not college-ready and provide incentives for them to find work in the hospitality field. There is a second Experience GR proposal ($900,000), which would expand the marketing of Kent County as a tourist destination, particularly in cooperation with the Pure Michigan campaign.

Third, then there are several entities that are faith-based, which have submitted proposals to use public money. The very fact that this is public money should disqualify faith-based groups from receiving COVID-19 stimulus funding. Some of the faith-based groups that submitted proposals are Rise Up Church, David’s House Ministries, Mel Trotter Ministries and Catholic Charities, with proposals ranging from $750,000 up to $10 Million.

A fourth point worth noting, is that various departments within Kent County submitted proposals. It seems a bit disingenuous to ask the community for proposals and then include several local government proposals. Governments are already generating funding sources through taxes to fund the work that they do to serve the public interest, or at least that is how it is framed. Maybe two of the most offensive government proposal was submitted by the Kent County Sheriff’s Department ($2,837,500), for a  Quality of Life Project, which would have the Sheriff’s Department do trainings for schools on shooter preparedness. The other offensive proposal was from the Kent County Jail ($2 Million), which was also a workforce development plan. Thus, they want to hire more guards for the jail, in order to perpetuate mass incarceration.

A fifth critical point to make about the 319 submitted proposals to use public money are much larger proposals that seems rather excessive. The John Ball Zoo submitted at $40 Million proposal to expand the zoo, while another proposal, from Grand River Inc., for $175 Million, would be to transform the Grand River area, primarily for development.

A sixth point worth noting is that there were four specific proposals submitted by entities that were started by and are part of the DeVos family – ArtPrize, Start Garden, AmplifyGR and Grand Rapids Initiative for Leaders. Look, the DeVos family has more than enough of their own money to fund any and all of these projects. They do not need to use, nor should they ever use public money.

The last point I wish to make in regards to the $127.6 million in COVID-19 stimulus funding that Kent County received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), is that instead of giving this money to agencies, businesses and government bodies, why not give the money directly to the residents of Kent County, particularly those most impacted by the pandemic? Those individuals and families that would share the $127.6 million in COVID-19 stimulus funding could use it for housing, food, utilities or whatever it is that they want to spend it on. If the people who have been most impacted by the pandemic are collectively spending $127.6 million, then that money will be injected back into the economy, which is what financial experts are always saying is a good thing. Why not bypass the agencies, businesses and government groups that claim to provide public services and just give the money directly to those most impact by the pandemic. Imagine how much relief it would be to the thousands of families to receive the Covid-19 stimulus funds, public funds, and how it will improve their quality of life. 

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