The city of Bethlehem will be holding clinics for eligible people to receive Moderna booster shots. The clinics will be held at City Hall the clinics are Oct. 26 and Oct. 28. (Viola Chen/B&W Student)

City of Bethlehem plans how to spend $34.4 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding


The city of Bethlehem received $34.4 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) and is in the process of deciding how the funds will be allocated before budget hearings in November.

The ARP Act was amended by the U.S. House of Representatives in March to provide additional COVID-19 relief. 

As explained in a Bethlehem Committee of the Whole Meeting, the ARP Act allocates funds between the following key provisions: rental and housing assistance, individuals and families, small businesses, healthcare, education, transportation and state and local governments.

Adam Waldron, president of Bethlehem City Council, said allocation of the money is ultimately the decision of the council, through the ordinance process.

“Understanding where those monies can be used can be challenging,” Waldron said. “It would be easy to say throw them all at Project A or Project B or this group or that organization, but there are guidelines for that money and where that can be used.” 

Eric Evans, Bethlehem’s business manager, said the council decided on three main uses for the ARP funding: COVID-19 response, revenue recovery and the community reinvestment fund. 

Federal money received from the American Rescue Plan is being divided up by the City Council for planned uses. Budget hearings will take place in November and plans are not yet finalized. (Sydney Carlson/B&W Staff)

Eight million will be allocated to COVID-19 response through a program titled “COVID Response: Essential Personnel.” This will be a three-year allocation, from 2022-2024, focused on maintaining public works staff and city employees while limiting tax increases, Evans said.

The “revenue recovery” portion of the allocation will be organized between capital needs, which will receive $12 million, and road infrastructure, receiving $6 million. These projects will continue over a five year period from 2022-2026, Evans said.

“A director of budget finance calculated Bethlehem’s revenue loss to be 6.7 million dollars in 2020,” Evans said. “ARP allows cities to recover that revenue and use it for the provision of government services, capital needs and specifically recommends use for roads.”

Evans said the capital needs improvements including heavy equipment for public works and public safety, as well as projects to maintain parks and city-owned facilities.

The road infrastructure allocations would include a $3 million investment in 2022 and another $3 million in 2024, Evans said.

The “community reinvestment fund” will receive $8,467,364 to go towards supporting small businesses, nonprofits and housing initiatives, Evans said. 

A more detailed structure for the community reinvestment will be created once enough information is gathered, Evans said. In order to qualify for assistance, recipients will need to explain how the pandemic affected them and how they plan to use the funds.

“This plan is conceptual, it will gain clarity through time,” Evans said. “Although we are anxious to distribute this category’s funding, we also want to gain an understanding of how best to award these funds to prevent duplication and to reach those most in need.”

City councilman Bryan Callahan said the city “will never get this kind of money again.” 

Evans said ARP includes provisions on aid to state and local governments, hard-hit industries and communities, tax changes affecting individuals and business and other provisions

“There’s going to be a lot of discussion between now and when we vote on the budget,” he said. 

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