The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners has released a list of potential projects that could be funded through the $71 million the county will receive from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan.
The Washtenaw County Rescue Plan
is designed to help the community recover from the impacts of COVID-19 and create a more equitable future. It leverages the federal funding alongside other funding sources for a total investment of approximately $100 million.
Potential investments address priorities in seven categories: connecting Washtenaw County, encouraging generational success, addressing housing affordability and homelessness, sustainability, supporting a strong local economy, health and wellbeing, and practicing good government. Proposed projects
include expanding broadband and public wifi, expanding solar infrastructure, and securing permanent affordable housing units.
“What we're talking about is an important, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make some serious change in our county," says Justin Hodge, chair of the board's Ways and Means Committee and commissioner for District 5.
As an example, Hodge points to one proposed project that would give every student attending school in the county a bank account. As a professor of social work at the University of Michigan, Hodge is particularly passionate about the project. He was part of a group that presented the initiative to the board before becoming a commissioner this year.
He's been involved in securing partnerships and planning, and feels that now might be a good opportunity to launch the project, should it be eligible for funding from the American Funding Plan.
"Research shows that kids who have a savings account from the time that they're really young are several times more likely to go on to post-secondary education," Hodge says. "Even if they have very little money, they've developed a future-oriented mindset that favors the pursuit of higher education."
Hodge underscores that the commissioners are committed to looking at data and engaging with the community as they move forward. A number of community meetings will be held throughout the rest of the year, and community members can provide insight and feedback through an online survey.
"This is taxpayers' money, and we want everyone to let us know what they think of the projects and how we should use the funds," he says. "Also, tell us what you want to see. It's a chance to have a voice in creating a better, fairer community for everyone."
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.