An Open Letter To Harrisonburg City Council And Staff
Dear Harrisonburg City Council Members and City Staff:
United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County strongly advocates for Harrisonburg City Council to dedicate funding more proportionately in alignment with the priorities identified through the City’s public engagement process facilitated by the Institute for Constructive Advocacy and Dialogue (ICAD).
Specifically, we ask City Council to allocate:
- $1 million to Invest in Community Mental Health Improvements
○ Community Assistance Through Nonprofits
- $1 million to Increase Affordable and Accessible Childcare
- $5 million to Expand Accessible, Affordable Housing
United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County applauds the City of Harrisonburg for undertaking the work of establishing community priorities by contracting with ICAD to engage the voices of residents of the community in this process. Through working with ICAD, the City invested time, energy and funds in a process that created a mechanism to intentionally include the voice of community members most impacted by the pandemic in decision making about how to spend once-in-a-lifetime State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds made available through the historic American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in March 2021.
We eagerly followed along as the extensive six-month long public input process unfolded. We amplified the City’s public engagement efforts by sharing information on the various opportunities for community input through surveys, public forums, and small group input sessions in multiple modes and languages. United Way participated in the public input process alongside other nonprofit organizations, devoting the entirety of our July 2022 ALICE Coalition meeting to a session with a team of ICAD facilitators.
We followed along during the City Council work session in August 2022 as ICAD reviewed the findings of the ARPA Public Engagement Process with City Council members. We heard the community voice loud and clear when we saw the ARPA Executive Summary mentioning community issues including improving community mental and physical health; increasing safe, accessible and sustainable housing; supporting workers and working families; ensuring access to quality and affordable childcare; strengthening support for K-12 students; improving how we get around; neighborhoods and community spaces.
We took note during the City Council work session in September 2022 as ICAD led council members through a discussion where you established the following criteria for how to spend ARPA funds:
- Makes a direct impact on the priority areas
- Prioritizes the most impacted by the pandemic
- Is unlikely funded through other means
- Addresses past racial, ethnic, and economic inequities
(Quoted from City Council Work Session meeting minutes from September 27, 2022.)
We paid close attention on October 11, 2022 when City Council formally adopted five ARPA Investment Priorities, in ranked order:
- Invest in Community Mental Health Improvements
- Increase Affordable and Accessible Childcare
- Expand Accessible, Affordable Housing
- Improve Neighborhoods
- Enhance Community Spaces
We now ask City Council to apply the criteria that you collectively established and allocate funds more proportionately according to the priorities identified by community members through the public engagement process with the input you invited from workers and working families who call the City of Harrisonburg home.
Nonprofit organizations stayed open and expanded services to meet the increased needs of the most vulnerable in our community during the height of the pandemic. Nonprofit organizations provide the vital services that workers and working families depended on to survive the pandemic and continue to rely on today to regain and maintain stability in the wake of the pandemic. Nonprofits provided these vital services before the pandemic, will continue to do so throughout our recovery and will contribute to a more resilient and responsive safety net of support for future challenges our community will inevitably face.
United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County stands ready to assist the City of Harrisonburg in ensuring ARPA funds make a direct impact in the highest ranked priority areas and deliver assistance to households most impacted and disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. We will do so by mobilizing the network of local nonprofit organizations that currently provide these vital services on a daily basis and will continue to do so after ARPA funds are expended.
Amanda Leech, Executive Director
United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County