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Since January, Carolina Public Press has been looking into how Western North Carolina’s local governments are spending American Rescue Plan Act funds.
ARPA funds, which the federal government designed to recover the nation from the COVID-19 pandemic, can be used in many ways, which can make it difficult for journalists following the nearly $2 trillion funding stream.
Through the project, we discovered that ARPA has been used in WNC in many ways, such as supplementing a local farmers market, repairing outdated sewer systems or providing employee pay.
But there’s much more ARPA reporting to be done before the spending deadline of December 2026, so CPP put together some tips for journalists looking into ARPA.
Know the basics
- North Carolina governments received $8.6 billion in ARPA funding — $3.2 billion to county and city governments, and $5.4 billion to the state government.
- ARPA funds can only be used to provide premium pay, improve infrastructure, address public and social health concerns, and replace lost government revenue.
- All funds must be appropriated by December 2024 and spent by December 2026 or the money is returned to the federal government.
- Here are some useful resources for basic ARPA knowledge: Treasury, National League of Cities and the White House.
Learn the ins and outs of ARPA
Since ARPA involves federal, state and local governments, understanding how the funds are distributed, spent and tracked can be challenging. That’s where sources like the federal Treasury Department’s ARPA guidelines are beneficial. To home in more on ARPA processes, reach out to the N.C. Pandemic Recovery Office, which has a staff totally devoted to COVID-19 response and recovery. Other solid resources include any of the state’s 16 regional councils of government.
Find government ARPA plans
Many large counties, like Buncombe, have entire websites devoted to tracking ARPA expenditures. These types of sites for smaller governments are rare, but a great way to access small counties’ ARPA plans is through poring over local government meeting agendas and minutes. Those are almost always available on county websites and give at least a slight indication of what the funds are being used for. These documents serve as a great jumping-off point to learn more about ARPA in local governments.
Ask the right questions
Every ARPA dollar spent on one project is an ARPA dollar not spent on another project, so I always make sure to ask government officials these questions:
- Why were these projects or programs selected to receive ARPA money?
- Why were these projects or programs selected to receive ARPA money instead of other projects or programs?
- What community members will be affected by this spending and how?
- How does this project accomplish the ARPA’s goal: to recover and strengthen communities?
Other helpful resources
You can also read and print out CPP’s tip sheet.