In the coming months, Tarrant County residents will have an opportunity to help decide how to spend more than $809 million in federal money paid directly to local governments. 

Before the various cities, school districts and the county finalize plans, the public can get involved. The Report offers this guide for residents interested in trying to do that.

What is American Rescue Plan Act funds and how can they be used?

The American Rescue Act is a piece of federal legislation that distributes over a trillion dollars to local governments. A broad overview of the funds includes money for basic infrastructure, health services and economic recovery from the pandemic. Reporter Kristen Barton also dug into a $23 million mental health diversion program in Tarrant County using federal money. 

Even more federal money could be distributed to local governments in the form of a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill that is before Congress. Mayor Mattie Parker recently joined five other mayors to urge Congress to pass the bill.

Tarrant County

The county is halfway through a series of work sessions where the commissioners court hears from county staff and community members about areas of need. 

The next work session is Aug. 24, 2021, and will focus on how the county can revitalize the economy.

Revitalizing the economy could mean:

  • Creating economic assistance programs 
  • Giving funds to affected industries like childcare 
  • Improvements to water sewer and broadband systems 
  • Coordination with the 2021 bond program 

The work sessions are open to the public, as with regular commissioners court meetings. 

If you go

What: The next commissioners court work session is Aug. 24 and Sept. 14. The sessions are after the commissioners weekly meeting. Last meeting, the work session began at 1 pm.

Where: Online or submit a written audience participation form by 10 a.m. on the day of the meeting. To comment virtually, you have to submit your form by noon the day before the meeting.  

Soon, Tarrant County will enter into a contract with a consultant to identify county-wide needs. That work will include surveys, focus groups and stakeholder interviews. When the assessment begins, Assistant County Administrator Kristen Camareno said, the public will be able to sign up for updates related to the American Rescue Plan Act program.

Fort Worth 

The city of Fort Worth has a list of capital improvement projects federal money could help them address. Like the county, Fort Worth is deciding how to spend this federal money alongside its 2022 bond program. Investigative journalist Jessica Priest broke down how the 2022 bond package might be used. 

Major projects federal money could address are: 

  • Improving drinking water
  • Street realignment and improvements 
  • Projects to attract tourism like expanding the convention center 

Much like the county, the city is working to compile reports from city staff, who are, in turn, soliciting feedback from community stakeholders like non-profits and neighborhood leaders. 

Residents can attend a series of public hearings on the city’s budget, which will include American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The hearings will take place: 

  • 7 p.m. Aug. 24 at City Hall, council chambers, 200 Texas St. This is the first hearing and will focus on the budget generally.
  • 7 p.m. Sept. 14 at City Hall, council chambers. This hearing will focus on the tax rate. The council will move to approve proposed fee changes.
  • 3 pm. Sept. 21 at City Hall, council chamber.s The hearing will focus on operating and capital budget adoption and recommended adoption of the tax rate.

The city is also holding a series of summer open houses where residents can learn more about how money is spent in Fort Worth from city staff and ask questions about how they can get involved. 

Upcoming meetings include: 

  • 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 12, at Heritage Church of Christ, 4201 Heritage Trace Parkway
  • 10 am. Saturday, Aug. 14, at R.D. Evans Community Center Gym, 3242 Lackland Road
  • 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 19, at Doxology Church, 4805 Arborlawn Drive

Residents also may submit written feedback to FWConnection@fortworthtexas.gov

Fort Worth ISD 

Fort Worth ISD will receive over $28 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The district plans to use the funds for: 

  • Supporting teachers ($82.7 million)
  • Purchasing instructional materials($22.1 million)
  • Creating more time for learning ($45 million)
  • Blended instruction ($33 million)
This chart shows where the district is prioritizing investment. (Courtesy: Fort Worth ISD)

The district used “guidance from the Texas Education Agency and feedback from students, parents, and other stakeholder groups” to create a plan for the federal funds.

The input process included:

  • A survey to parents, teachers and students
  • Virtual town hall meetings, focus groups, and advisory committees weighing in on the best way to use the funds.

To accomplish the district’s goals they plan to hire full-time family engagement specialists, hire more teachers including special education teachers, create a learning acceleration program, and much more

Although the district has already produced and submitted a plan to use the federal funds there will be opportunities for public input in the future. In January of 2022, there will be a six-month review of the investment with public input. Then again in July of 2022, the public will have a chance to give feedback. 

The time and date of these reviews have not been announced.

Arlington

The city of Arlington began looking Aug. 3 at the city’s proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year. The budget includes over $19 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The city has a tentative plan on how it will distribute those funds:

  • $7.3 million for the Fire Department
  • $3.8 million for the Police Department
  • $1.3 million for Police technology projects
  • $7.2 million to restore FY 2021 budget cuts

Because of the pandemic, Arlington put a hiring freeze in place. Using American Rescue Act Plan funds, the city lifted the freeze to fill needed positions in areas like public safety. 

Arlington plans to vote on the budget Sep. 7. It will finalize the budget Sep. 14. Residents may give input at an in-person town hall budget meeting Aug. 16 and 23. 

If you go: 

The in-person budget town hall meetings are scheduled for

• 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 16 at the Arlington Police Department South District Service Center, 1030 SW Green Oaks Blvd.

• 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 23 at the City Council Chambers, 101 W. Abram St.

A virtual telephone budget town hall meeting is set for:

• 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 25. Click here to register by 3 p.m. Aug. 25 to participate in and speak directly with City of Arlington representatives during this virtual town hall.

The participant toll-free number for this call is:

• English: 888-409-5380

• Spanish: 844-881-1317

• Vietnamese: 888-410-3427

Agendas for the meetings will be posted at least 72 hours before the meeting. 

There will also be a virtual town hall meeting on the budget. The date hasn’t been announced yet. 

Rachel Behrndt is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

Editors note: This story was updated August 12, 2021, to include the dates, times and locations of the Arlington Coty Council budget town halls.

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Rachel Behrndt

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for fortworthreport.org. She can be reached at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org

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