Keeping tabs on Detroit’s tab as it spends $826M in federal COVID aid

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The American Rescue Plan Act is a federal stimulus designed to support public health and economic recovery during the pandemic. Detroit, got the fifth largest amount of any American city. (Shutterstock photo)

Over the weekend, the City of Detroit’s communications team went into overdrive addressing reports that it had purchased 4,875 COVID rapid tests at nearly $900 a pop. Though the reports were wrong — the price was for a kit, which includes 24 tests — the disconnect was predicated on an official City document, the only publicly available sheet detailing the City’s pandemic-related expenditures. 

The facts were cleared up, but it has put renewed focus on the City’s usage of the $826 million in funds it is getting from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). It also has raised questions about what information is accessible to the general public. To help, BridgeDetroit has created a spreadsheet documenting all City Council-approved contracts that use ARPA funds. We will continue to update as contracts are approved.

In March, President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, a stimulus bill responding to the pandemic. Two months later, the U.S. Department of the Treasury launched the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, which allocated $350 billion of that package for municipalities across the nation. The funds are meant to support public health and economic recovery. 

Detroit, which got the fifth largest amount of any American city, received the first half of the $826 million grant in May 2021, and will get the second installment this upcoming May. 


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According to an October analysis by the Associated Press, the majority of the country’s largest cities and states hadn’t spent any of their ARPA funds yet. States had spent 2.5% of their grants, and large cities had spent 8.5%. 

Detroit, based on these figures, is far above the rest of the nation. It has spent just under $40 million, or 4.8% of its funding, since this summer. It has until 2024 to allocate the money and until 2026 to spend it.  

According to a National League of Cities report, many municipalities have earmarked a large portion of their grant for lost revenue, as opposed to new infrastructure projects.

“Two in three cities are prioritizing replacing lost revenue (67%), with more than 1 in 2 (54%) also addressing negative economic impacts to households, small businesses, nonprofits and impacted industries,” the report explained. 

This lines up with Detroit, which off the bat announced it would spend $250.2 million on maintaining city services, offsetting revenue shortfalls and investments in information technology (IT) and cybersecurity. 

A number of national organizations are tracking how municipalities are spending the money and making suggestions. One tip, according to the Government Finance Officers Association, is not to spend the funds on ongoing programs. In other words, cities should avoid using the funds as a stop-gap or to start new, integral programs that could then fall apart come 2024. 

city of detroit document

This City of Detroit document detailing the cost of COVID rapid tests was not made available to the public until last weekend. The City pays $37 per COVID test. (City of Detroit slide)

Cities are also advised to coordinate spending among various municipalities that are also receiving the funding, or that share constituents. The City of Detroit and Detroit Public Schools Community District, for example, both have received ARPA funds. If they both independently created broadband wifi programs, this could be a redundancy. 

The Detroit Documenters, an organization of engaged citizens who cover public meetings and help create a record of policy decisions and legislation, contributed to this report. 

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