Metro Atlanta governments expect $916 million from COVID-19 relief plan

Officials still figuring out how best to use the funds

Six metro Atlanta local governments are expecting a combined $916 million from the COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress Wednesday and signed into law by President Joe Biden Thursday.

Those county and City of Atlanta officials are now brainstorming the best uses of the money to stimulate the economy and help their residents still reeling from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic a year after it started.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan aims to provide economic relief in a variety of ways — money for individuals, state governments, local governments, vaccines, schools, small businesses and anti-poverty programs.

It contrasts in some ways from last year’s CARES Act, which allocated about $600 million to local governments in Metro Atlanta. The most noticeable difference: It’s much bigger, said Emory University economist Thomas Smith.

“It’s providing a ton of resources across the board,” Smith said. “The previous packages had less money going directly to states. This package is ginormous.”

Local government officials across the metro area say they have yet to develop concrete plans for spending the funds. The deadline is Dec. 31, 2024, according to the bill.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a strong Biden supporter who was considered as a potential vice presidential running mate and a member of his cabinet, called the package a “thoughtful piece of legislation.” She, along with other state and local political leaders from across the country, traveled to the White House last month to discuss the stimulus.

The city is expecting to receive $165 million.

“The American Rescue Plan will provide much needed assistance for our communities ... that will help our schools reopen safely, extend unemployment benefits, provide significant rental and homeowner assistance and help address revenue short falls that the City of Atlanta has experienced as a result of the pandemic,” Bottoms said in a prepared statement.

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Atlanta Councilman Matt Westmoreland called the package “incredible,” adding it wouldn’t have occurred without Georgia voters, who elected U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond said his county will use the funds to help people and boost the economy by bolstering public health operations and building on existing programs that provide food, job training, small business loans and rental assistance.

“We have to make sure we get this funding as quick as possible to the people who need it the most,” said DeKalb County Commissioner Larry Johnson, who added that the county would likely receive the first half of its $147 million allocation in April.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury is expected to send the first half of relief funding to states within 60 days, said Eryn Hurley, a legislative director at the National Association of Counties. The second round of funding will be distributed a year later, she added.

Hurley said the bill outlines four major uses — pay to essential workers, addressing lost revenue among governments, investments in infrastructure, and support for personal protective equipment and other needs related to the ongoing pandemic.

Fulton County is poised to receive Georgia’s largest local allocation at $206 million.

Fulton Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman said the first priority should be a mortgage assistance program. Many of her constituents were disappointed that the $18 million in housing assistance that Fulton received only covered renters, she said. About 10,000 people applied, but the funds could only help a quarter of those people.

Abdur-Rahman said the new funding could also help owners and employees of small businesses.

“I think they need a shot in the arm,” she said. “I think this could help them keep their doors open.”

Cobb Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said it’s too early to say how that county’s $149 million will impact Cobb’s financial health, but the money will provide “significant resources” for residents.

Overall, the stimulus package could flood Georgia’s state government with about $4.7 billion. Hurley said the Treasury department will give the funds directly to counties and municipalities with populations of at least 50,000.

The federal government is also giving states money to allocate to municipalities with populations below 50,000, Hurley said.

Nicole Love Hendrickson, Chairwoman of the Gwinnett County Commission, said the county is “very grateful” for the $181 million allocated to it.

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Clayton County Commissioner Felicia Warner said the county’s $68 million will be vital to the south metro community because of the huge hit to its budget from increased expenses and sales tax collection losses.

It’s also important to help Clayton keep renters in their homes, she said.

“We’re a heavy rental community,” Warner said. “I’m getting emails every day about folks getting put out of their homes and we have to help them find a place to lay their heads.”

AJC reporters Arielle Kass, Ben Brasch, Leon Stafford, Stephen Deere, and Tyler Estep contributed to this story.

Local governments across Metro Atlanta are expected to receive more than $916 million from the American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden Thursday. The region’s local governments received about $600 million from last year’s CARES Act funding.

Estimated stimulus allocations by local government:

  • Fulton County: $206 million
  • City of Atlanta: $165 million
  • Cobb County: $149 million
  • DeKalb County: $147 million
  • Gwinnett County: $181 million
  • Clayton County: $68 million
  • Henry: $45 million
  • Cherokee: $50 million
  • Forsyth: $47 million