What Planners Should Know About the Current COVID Relief Bill

Editor's Note: This blog post was updated following the Senate passage of the American Rescue Plan on March 6, 2021.

The latest coronavirus relief bill has only one legislative hurdle to clear before becoming law.

With the House of Representatives expected to vote on the final legislation tomorrow, planners will see federal action on one of our four legislative priorities this week.

The final version of the American Rescue Plan includes substantial emergency aid for local and state governments, transit agencies, renters, landlords, homeowners, and people without homes and access to broadband — all requests that you've pushed as an APA member since last year.

State and Local Aid

The final package makes major reforms to two areas where planners told Congress the CARES Act fell short; all cities can access the funding and the aid is flexible. Among other support, it includes $350 billion aid for states, localities, counties, Tribes, and territories. Sixty percent of the emergency funding would flow to states, while 40 percent would go to cities and counties, including $45.57 billion for cities with 50,000 at least residents and $19.53 billion for cities with fewer than 50,000 residents. States would have 60 days to distribute funds to communities with fewer than 50,000 people.

Set aside as a separate resource for local support, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Disaster Relief Fund makes available to communities $50 billion for reimbursement to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments dealing with ongoing response and recovery activities from COVID-19.

Importantly, the bill would allow communities to use the aid to replace lost, delayed, and decreased revenue based on January 2020 government projections; cover response and mitigation expenses and costs incurred as result of the emergency; and address economic fallout from the pandemic. This is a welcomed change from the CARES Act, which did not allow communities to use aid to cover steep decreases in revenue.

And while the Treasury Department would continue to administer funds, there is no deadline for spending the aid. Communities would, however, be required to apply for funds, proving their need to Treasury.


The bill also addresses the heightened housing crisis by providing another injection of emergency assistance for communities facing increased housing and homelessness challenges. In total, the relief plan would direct $40 billion to ensuring housing security, with $25 billion for renters and landlords, $5 billion for homeless individuals, and $10 billion for homeowners.

Transportation and broadband infrastructure

Transit and airports would receive critical funding under the final package. The bill includes $30.5 billion for transit agencies to help with operating costs, personal protection equipment, and payroll as they continue to face enormous fiscal challenges. Airports would receive $8 billion. Amtrak also receives a funding boost to $1.7 billion.

One of the last-minute adds was additional support for broadband infrastructure — an APA legislative priority.

What Comes Next

With the House on track to pass the Senate-approved $1.9 trillion relief package tomorrow, the bill moves next to President Biden's desk, where he is expected to sign the legislation into law immediately.

Planners' outreach and advocacy over the last year got us to this moment. Because of your emails, tweets, testimonies, and virtual meetings with Members of Congress, planners helped secure the local relief that will move communities forward.

In the months ahead, planners can expect more federal support for long-term recovery efforts. The Administration and Congress have already begun work on their next major legislative effort — and another APA priority — infrastructure stimulus.

Planners must be ready to guide these federal investments into the transformative projects and plans that will make communities more equitable and resilient. APA will help you move forward in the weeks and months ahead by making sure you know what steps your community needs to take to access relief and recovery funds.

Top image: Young woman with protective face mask using smart phone while traveling by bus. Getty Images photo.

February 25, 2021

By Emily Pasi