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Politics & Government

Dallas Needs to Decide What To Do With $377 Million in Federal Stimulus Money

The latest round of COVID-19 recovery funds comes with strings attached, but city leaders and residents have some leeway in choosing what to do with a historic amount of cash.
Photo by Barta IV / via Flickr.

Dallas is about to be flooded with federal cash, courtesy of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package President Joe Biden signed into law last month. A quick breakdown of what’s coming our way includes:

  • $377 million for the city of Dallas
  • $511 million for Dallas County
  • $16.7 billion for the state of Texas

Hundreds of millions dollars more are being distributed to neighboring cities and counties. There is more still going toward federal programs that could benefit Dallas residents in the form of child tax credits, food stamps, grants for education and the arts, funding for airports and transit agencies, funeral expenses for people who died of COVID-19, paycheck protection payments, and money for the restaurants, bars, and venues that were affected by the pandemic. This would come later, if it comes at all, but throw in the $2 trillion infrastructure plan now being floated by the Biden administration and the amount of zeros at the end of what’s already an unprecedented level of investment gets really eye-popping.

The question now for the Dallas City Council, which was briefed on these numbers Wednesday: What to do with all that money?

It’s also a question for you and I. Dallas City Council members should be asking their constituents where they’d like to see the money spent, and city staffers are organizing some remote town halls to poll residents next month. This time to decide is a luxury the city didn’t have for the last round of stimulus funding, which came last year and had to be spent within a 9-month deadline to protect residents and rejuvenate businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. (The city has yet to spend about $108 million of the more than $415 million it received in federal COVID-19 grant dollars last year.)

Half of the $377 million being given directly to Dallas will land in the city’s bank account next month. This time, however, the city has until the end of 2024 to spend it. Elizabeth Reich, the city’s chief financial officer, is waiting on more guidance from the federal government, but says the money does come with some strings attached. It must be used to either:

  • Respond to COVID-19 or its economic impacts.
  • Replace revenue lost due to COVID-19.
  • Provide premium pay for eligible essential workers (although it can’t be deposited into pension funds).
  • Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.

Reich says the city would at first prioritize relief and balancing the budget, providing for public health initiatives while supporting residents who are most in need because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the short term, it would then look to shore up the city’s finances, replacing any revenue that may have been lost during the pandemic to avoid deeper cuts down the road.

It’s after that when things get interesting. The city has more than three years in which it can spend a historic amount of federal money investing in “water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure.” For a city where a quarter of all households with children don’t have internet access, in a region where some communities aren’t even guaranteed access to running water, that’s a big deal. If this takes place at the same time as some other bold infrastructure projectsand if the city coordinates a plan with the county, the state, and neighboring cities set to receive similar influxes of federal dollars, which Reich says is keythe next few years could be transformative for North Texas.

Did we mention there is a City Council election currently happening? Early voting wraps up April 27. Election Day is May 1. Get informed, then make your voice heard.