Spotlight Exclusives

Southern Leaders Must Level Up Equity with American Rescue Plan Funds

Maria Filippelli, Data Director for SEAP at the Roosevelt Institute. Maria Filippelli, Data Director for SEAP at the Roosevelt Institute., posted on

Billions of dollars of the American Rescue Plan funds have not led to shared recovery – especially for low-income women of the South – because many local leaders have not fully leveraged the funds. And as state and local leaders continue to make crucial decisions about how to invest ARP dollars, the Southern Economic Advancement Project (SEAP) highlights how women are being left out of a conversation that will impact generations.

“Everything has gone up. Just needing financial help with utilities and housing would be a great help.” – Georgia survey participant

“I wish they could help with my student loan so I can get back into college. It’s hard for me because I’m a single parent.” – Alabama survey participant

These sentiments are what the SEAP repeatedly hears in our American Rescue Plan Community Needs survey. According to the survey, women earning less than $20,000 annually stated their top personal challenge is the ability to pay utilities (53 percent) with student loans, housing costs, credit, and other personal debt a close second (48 percent).

Community challenges reveal additional stress for basic necessities. When asked about the biggest challenges for their community, 54 percent say housing is the number one concern for their communities. This is followed by affordable and reliable utilities at 47 percent and economic opportunities at 40 percent.

“The community needs safe roads to drive on, new equipment for the school, we need affordable housing” – Louisiana survey participant

“It’s so hard to find an affordable place to live and utilities [are] so high that a lot of single parents can’t afford to pay deposit nor pay the bill each month…” -Mississippi survey participant

SEAP launched the survey in November 2021 with pilots in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and New Orleans, sharing it through the Providers app, which serves food-insecure households. Close to 4,000 individuals have responded, and the survey remains active.

In addition to debt and housing, Southerners face the compounding impact of climate disasters. The Pandemic to Prosperity national report details how disasters have been particularly frequent in the South, especially in Louisiana. Since March 2020 every parish (county) in the state has experienced more than 12 FEMA disaster declarations.

March 11 marked one year since President Biden passed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act, delivering $130 billion in recovery dollars to every community across the country. These dollars provide an unprecedented opportunity for local leaders to answer questions with action. 

A cornerstone of ARP is “strong, equitable growth, including racial equity” as well as prioritizing racial and economic equity in outreach and implementation. SEAP’s survey respondents, 61 percent of whom are Black or African American, were asked if any community or elected official reached out to them about how ARP funds should be utilized. An overwhelming 91% replied “no one”.

SEAP is working to bridge this information and knowledge gap. Our ARP Local Funds Tracker is a newly developed tool to follow where local leaders are allocating funds. Decisions are still underway, but we already see signs of misplaced priorities and a lack of attention to the needs of working-class southerners:

  • Sixteen Alabama cities designated $29 million of their combined $382 million allotment to housing support.
  • In Georgia, 26 cities are allocating only $22 million of their combined $576 million to housing support and another $4 million to household assistance. 
  • In Mississippi, the data shows 12 cities are using $12 million of their combined $100 million allotment for water, sewer and stormwater projects and, so far, $0 for broadband, which is a significant issue in the state and across the South. 

Local leaders must reach out to low-income folks, women, racial and ethnic minority communities, and other marginalized populations to ensure pandemic recovery is equitable and not contributing to an increased and growing disparity in the South. SEAP continues to keep tabs on ARP actions and decisions, broadening economic power and building a more equitable future.

Maria Filippelli is the Data Director for SEAP at the Roosevelt Institute. Working with SEAP partners, Maria breaks down barriers to accessing and analyzing data needed to broaden economic power and build a more equitable future throughout the South.

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