NLC Conference Highlights Federal Aid and Infrastructure Initiatives


After a second pandemic-scarred winter, global warming seems especially needed — a physical representation of rejuvenated markets and a growing economy fueled by federal spending. Many communities are reemerging with a new vision, bolstered by federal spending programs including the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which was signed into law a year ago this month.

It was a common thread in a speech delivered to a roomful of civic leaders on Monday by Pres. Joe Biden at the 2022 National League of Cities (NLC) Congressional Municipal Conference.

“Remember the lines of cars that stretch for miles in your communities, waiting for boxes of food to be put in their trunks?” Biden asked, noting that ARPA gave families “just a little breathing room for a little while.”

Federal spending plan delivered $65.1 billion in direct and flexible assistance to US cities and towns, allowing administrators to respond directly to local needs without cutting red tape. In conjunction with the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, ARPA, the measures represent a historic national investment. NLC leadership hailed the significance of these critical bills, which have significantly blunted the fiscal blow of the pandemic and allowed communities to reflect on what will happen after stay-at-home orders and warrants of mask are part of the story.

“Let me repeat: $65.1 billion. This was in response to the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on municipalities across the country. Our communities were responsible for keeping essential services running despite economic hardship. Many have been faced with the impossible decision of having to cut essential services or lay off employees,” said Vince Williams, NLC President and Mayor of Union City, Ga.

In response to their members’ concerns about the pandemic, Williams recalled how the NLC had brought together local leaders from across the country “to remind Congress that cities matter — and Congress has listened.”

Among the various Biden administration officials present were Julie Chavez Rodriguez, director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs; Samantha Silverberg, White House Infrastructure Implementation Assistant; Carlton Waterhouse, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Land and Emergency Management at Environmental Protection Agency; Andy Berke, Special Representative for Broadband at the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Agency; and US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

“There’s no part of the country that won’t be impacted by this funding,” Buttigieg said, noting that his department is currently focused on streamlining the federal loan application process. “As a common university application, we are trying to make federal grants more user-friendly because communities would benefit the most. It’s about creating opportunity – a good transport project is one that sees this and connects the dots. We help people manage the minutes where they are and where they need to go.

Unlike previous spending programs, recent infrastructure initiatives task local leaders with spending their allocations responsibly, with limited oversight and a lot of freedom. From broadband to bridges and everything in between, administrators can focus federal funds where they will have the most impact.

“A big part of why we were successful is that the bailout came straight to you without having to pass,” Biden said.

Despite the nationwide economic recovery, Biden warned mayors that not everyone will return to their pre-pandemic baseline. In many households, the pandemic will reverberate for decades.

Beneath the recovery, there has also been a lot of lasting pain. A lot of people never get back on their feet when they get knocked down so badly. Many young people saw their future darkened by the previous recession; it’s what our economists call economic scars — trapped in long-term unemployment, evictions or foreclosures,” Biden continued. “When the economy comes back but some people are left behind. Research shows that when you’re stuck in this cycle, it has a worse effect on your mental health than the loss (of a loved one).”

Drawing lessons from past recessions and how they have been handled, Biden said ARPA aims to take everyone with you.

Throughout the week, NLC panelists talked about everything from raising federal funds for broadband and creating a healthy workforce to protecting against cyber threats and developing affordable housing. Officials also notably condemned Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

“As mayor and president of the National League of Cities, I stand with those local leaders who defend their hometowns against foreign invasion. I believe it is moments like this that remind us that even though our cities are far apart, they are not that different. Ukrainian families want the same things as families in Union City, Georgia: a good education, a safe place for their children to play, paid work. They also want the freedom to express themselves, to vote in free and fair elections and to live in a free country. It is essential that we maintain a strong and vibrant democracy here at home and that we reach out to people around the world who are fighting for their freedom. In other words, we must keep working to deliver on the promise of America’s cities, towns, and villages,” Williams said.

The conference ended Tuesday with remarks from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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