Looking Back to Look Ahead: Leveraging Federal Stimulus Investments & Advancing Equitable Recovery


Two years ago, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), providing $350 billion to state, local and tribal governments for direct relief to individuals, businesses, and municipalities in hopes of stimulating the nation’s recovery from the impacts of the COVID pandemic, and to facilitate a robust and equitable recovery.

To that end, The Joyce Foundation began making a series of cross-cutting strategic investments in 2020 to build capacity, drive inclusive economic growth and help ensure that the Great Lakes region captured its fair share of the once-in-a-generation funding. The ARPA two-year anniversary gives us an opportunity to look back at the results of these early investments and provides some lessons for peer grant making organizations considering similar investments.

Since 2020, Joyce has invested nearly $8 million across 40 grants in federal economic stimulus-related efforts used for:

  • Producing new accountability tools, trainings, and research to track the flow and utilization of the funding, like Brookings Metro’s Local Government ARPA Investment Tracker and Greater MSP’s ARPA Tracker, among others.
  • Improving equitable use and access related to stimulus dollars, such as Launch, a national college and career pathways initiative.
  • Seeding innovative and policy-driven models to help them to receive public financing through ARPA like RainReady, a community-driven research and policy development effort to find solutions to urban flooding. The project subsequently attracted $6 million in ARPA funds from Cook County.
  • Providing technical assistance to states and local municipalities to better spend and compete for federal funding, such as the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, which administered a national community of practice among Office of Violence Prevention leaders to enhance grant writing skills.

“One of our most important reflections on this grant making is that funders can play a critical role in both supporting capacity needs of and enabling transparency and accountability over local and state spending decisions of this historic federal funding,” said Whitney Smith, the Foundation’s Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer.

Other key takeaways for funders to consider include:

  • Investing with an “equity lens”—strategic investing related to securing or spending federal funds equitably requires a long-term view and sustained support to keep commitments in place.
  • Taking risks on innovation—philanthropy is in a unique position to take a chance on initiatives in the early planning stage and test new strategies or partnerships that can help position grantees’ efforts to receive greater public funding to complete projects.
  • Building public sector capacity —All municipalities, regardless of size, have administrative capacity restraints. Providing “neutral” technical assistance resources allows communities to prioritize their own needs and engage more diverse stakeholders in the effort to effectively secure federal funding.

Joyce’s early and consistent investments in this space have laid a strong foundation for the Great Lakes region to compete for and spend additional federal funding more effectively down the road. These investments are also helping researchers to better study longer-term impacts of stimulus funding and allows advocates to be in a better position to hold policymakers accountable – especially when it comes to equitable spending and sustainability of innovative models.

About The Joyce Foundation

Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.

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