The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is a federal relief package providing $1.9 trillion in funding, program changes, and tax policies aimed at mitigating the continuing effects of the COVID-19 public health crisis. As a result of this historic legislation, Erie County is receiving $52,391,502 through a Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund grant awarded by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The grant is being paid to the County over two years, with half arriving in 2021 and the other half arriving in 2022.
The County must allocate, or determine how grant dollars are to be used, by December 31, 2024, and spend all grant funding by December 31, 2026. Grant funds are being deployed over a five-year period to help Erie County in Building a Better Future for its residents.
Reporting and Compliance
As a requirement of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund grant program, Erie County must publish an annual Performance Report outlining how funds are being used. See the County’s published reports below.
How is this funding being spent?
Erie County Council approved a budget for the first half of the grant, which is $26 million, during their August 5, 2021 meeting. Using the guidelines provided by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Council allocated grant funding for the following types of projects.
Funds are being used to respond to COVID-19 and the broader health impacts of COVID-19 and the public health emergency.
Erie County Employee Vaccine Incentive ($360,000)
To increase the number of county employees fully vaccinated, the Erie County Department of Human Resources is administering an employee vaccine incentive, which allows for all currently vaccinated county employees, as well as those who are vaccinated before the end of the 2021 calendar year, to receive a one-time payment of $300.
Erie County Department of Corrections / Erie County Prison ($142,000)
Due to COVID-19 mitigation policies/procedures, residents of the Erie County Prison are no longer transported to the Erie County Courthouse for hearings; the Erie County Prison has assumed responsibility for running court operations at the prison. To improve the facilitation of remote court proceedings, Erie County Prison is installing five commercial soundproof booths from which hearings can be conducted. Additionally, seven Polycom systems are being installed, one for each booth with direct connections to county court, one in the room where arraignments are conducted, and one in a room being used for federal court and probation hearings.
Erie County Facilities and Operations ($10,000)
Erie County Facilities and Operations is making physical changes to multiple transaction or customer service windows located in county-owned facilities which have not yet been modified to meet safe operating guidelines during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
Erie County Information Technology ($274,760)
Information Technology is purchasing software and hardware to respond to the needs of multiple departments created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Erie County Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission ($3,500,000)
The purpose of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commission is to address Erie County Council Resolution 43 of 2020 Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis in Erie County. The Commission will invest in racially diverse populations by granting funding that creates opportunities for minority populations, lobbies for inclusive policy, and empowers minority populations throughout Erie County. The governing body of the Commission will consist of nine Directors, seven appointed by County Council and two appointed by the County Executive.
NEGATIVE ECONOMIC IMPACT
Funds are being used to respond to the negative economic impacts of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Erie County Emergency Medical Services Scholarship Fund ($100,000)
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania was facing a potential public safety crisis over the dramatic decline in the number of volunteer first responders, as highlighted by the 2018 SR 6 Commission Final Report. Funds are being used to create a four-year scholarship fund with the Erie Community Foundation that will help pay for EMR, EMT or AEMT Certification, or Paramedic Certification. Eligible applicants include minority individuals, low-income/income qualifying individuals, individuals who have experienced career or academic displacement due to COVID-19, and/or an individual who is currently volunteering or working with an emergency services agency and is looking to advance their career.
COVID-19 Economic Recovery and Growth Fund ($779,500)
To enhance the Erie County Redevelopment Authority’s revolving loan fund (which was maxed out as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic) and provide the resources necessary to assist the many businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic and help jumpstart expansion and growth, funds are being added to the Erie County Redevelopment Authority COVID-19 Economic Recovery and Growth Fund. Funds are being used to assist in the financing of real estate, machinery, and equipment purchases where job creation and retention can be quantified. Recovery loans may also involve refinance lending that is directly tied to costs incurred from the COVID-19 pandemic.
StARTup Grant Program ($250,000)
To assist local entrepreneurs, funds are being added to the Erie County Redevelopment Authority’s existing StARTup Grant Program, which was funded with a $130,000 gift from the original Edinboro University StARTup Incubator. The program is designed to address the diverse nature of new business development.
Diversity Loan Program ($337,500)
Funds are being used to expand the Erie County Redevelopment Authority’s existing Diversity Loan Program, which is designed to assist traditionally underserved, minority businesses, including African American, New Americans and women. Women- and minority-owned businesses, particularly Black-owned businesses, have been disproportionately hurt by the COVID-19 crisis. The increase in the size of the fund is allowing for larger loan options and an overall expansion of the program, including providing technical assistance services in partnership with Erie’s Black Wallstreet and other community partners.
New Small Business Grant Program ($150,000)
The Erie County Redevelopment Authority’s New Small Business Grant Program is designed to provide necessary relief to new Erie County small businesses established on or after January 1, 2020 that have been negatively impacted by the effects of COVID-19. Grants of $5,000 – $10,000 are being provided to assist in ensuring the survival and stability of these crucial businesses.
Erie County Fire/EMS Operational Support & Transformative Grant Programs ($1,100,000)
Administered by the Erie County Department of Public Safety in partnership with the Erie County Firefighters Association, and Erie Area Council of Governments, the goals of these grant programs are to provide general operating support, as well as transformative grants that will incentivize: (1) development of merger/collaboration plans or strategies to improve service coverage, (2) training and education, (3) recruitment/ pipeline development, and (4) retention strategies, including wage subsidies. The program is open to the 31 volunteer fire departments and five emergency medical services agencies located or operating in Erie County.
Building a Better Future Transformative Grant Program ($4,000,000)
To support, empower, and advance the countywide nonprofit sector, and respond to the COVID-19 public health emergency and its negative economic impacts, the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority is creating and administering the Transformative Grant Program.
Lead Assets Grant Program ($1,000,000)
Erie County’s nine Lead (Cultural) Assets, as identified by the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority, include the Erie Art Museum, Erie Arts & Culture, Erie Philharmonic, Erie Playhouse, Erie Zoological Society, expERIEnce Children’s Museum, Flagship Niagara League, Hagen History Center, and Mercyhurst Institute for Arts & Culture. Collectively, the Lead Assets annually fuel the economy with more than $13.7 million indirect expenditures. State and local mandates related to the public health pandemic resulted in the Lead Assets halting standard operations. As a result, the Lead Assets incurred a loss of revenue totaling more than $3.47 million. To support the re-opening of Erie County’s key cultural assets, which collectively serve more than 670,000 residents and visitors each year, each Lead Asset will receive a one-time grant.
Shuttered Venue Grant Program ($1,474,991)
Eligible applicants must be physically located in Erie County, be currently operating, provide 2019 and 2020 business financials, and fall into one of the eligible categories (Theater Companies and Dinner Theaters, Dance Companies, Musical Groups and Artists, Other Performing Arts Companies, Museums, Historical Sites, Zoos and Botanical Gardens, Amusement and Theme Parks, Amusement Arcades, Golf Courses and Country Clubs, Skiing Facilities, Fitness and Recreational Sports Centers, Bowling Centers). Entities which have received a SBA Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, or are classified as a Lead Asset (as defined by the Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority) are ineligible to apply. The program, which is being administered by the Erie County Redevelopment Authority, is designed to provide much-needed support to entities which play a critical role in the local economy as cultural and recreational attractions and that had to shutter their doors a year ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Workforce Development Initiative ($150,000)
The COVID-19 pandemic thrust nearly 26,000 workers from all parts of Erie County into unemployment for some period over the last 18 months. While nearly 19,000 are back to work, the workforce demands of employers in nearly every sector is a critical economic development challenge for the region. The Erie Forward Plan, Garner Workforce Development Delivery System Assessment, and Erie Restart (Recovery Plan) all identify workforce development as a priority for the region, as a strong Erie County workforce, in terms of the number of eligible workers as well as skills, has the potential to help existing companies survive and thrive and serve as a tool to attract new investment. Development of a skilled workforce requires intentional, coordinated actions over a sustained period involving partners working together to consistently train new and existing employees and build the skill sets needed by local employers. To that end, the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership is implementing a multifaceted workforce development initiative.
SERVICES TO DISPROPORTIONATELY IMPACTED COMMUNITIES
Funds are being used to provide services to communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Savacchio Opportunity Park Project Green ($500,000)
The Erie County Redevelopment Authority is serving as consultant and project development manager to the Minority Community Investment Coalition and the Savocchio Opportunity Park Project, which is a multi-phase ‘green’ project designed to create jobs, improve food security, and offer workforce and entrepreneurial development. The Park and all businesses will run on solar energy and work to be carbon neutral. The project includes: creation of a full-scale aquaponics facility that will house a fish hatchery and grow commercial produce for resale – a portion of the facility will be utilized by neighboring residents, the majority of whom are New Americans; development of the first east coast NextGen Integrated Pest Management Solutions operation, which will raise pests to be utilized as organic pesticides and serve the PA, NY & MI markets; and development of a culinary incubator and kitchen, co-packing facility, and solar array/community solar farm.
Quin-T Site Environmental Remediation ($750,000)
This 6-acre site, formerly the Quin-T paper company, a manufacturer of roofing tar paper made with asbestos has sat vacant and blighted for more than three decades. The site has both asbestos remnants, lead paint, and barrels of oil and other contaminants of unknown origin. It is located next to low-income single-family homes and was recently home to a homeless encampment. The goal of the Erie County Redevelopment Authority’s project is to improve the neighborhood surrounding the site by removing a blighted, hazardous industrial property. The scope of work for the project includes environmental clean-up, demolition, remediation, and site preparation.
EMI Site Environmental Remediation ($750,000)
This blighted, abandoned manufacturing facility sits on a full city block (approximately five acres) along the West 12th Street historic industrial corridor, which is a primary transportation artery for the City of Erie and an area targeted for investment/redevelopment. The property abuts a school athletic facility, as well as the business and residential neighborhood of Erie’s Historic Little Italy. The site has a number of contaminants including coal, lead paint, oils, PCBs, and others of an unknown origin. It is a health and safety hazard in terms of these contaminants, as well as the condition of the physical facility. The goal of the Erie County Redevelopment Authority’s project is to improve the neighborhood and industrial corridor impacted by the site by removing a blighted, hazardous industrial property. The scope of work for the project includes environmental clean-up, demolition, remediation, and site preparation.
Erie County Gun Violence Reduction Initiative ($125,000)
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office oversees the Erie Area Gun Working Group, which successfully piloted a gun reduction initiative in 2015 that led to a two-year continuation of the effort as the Erie County Gun Violence Reduction Initiative. The initiative included community policing strategies and a collaborative/ coordinated local, state, and federal law enforcement effort. Funds are supporting a year extension of this evidence-based initiative.
WATER, SEWER, AND BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE
Funds are being used to support water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure projects.
Erie County Municipal Infrastructure GAP Funding Program ($2,500,000)
To support, empower, and advance Erie County municipalities, the County is providing funds to create a Municipal Infrastructure GAP Funding Program. Funds may be used to invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, making necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and to expand access to broadband internet. These funds are being administered by the Erie County Department of Planning and Community Development, whose responsibilities include, but are not limited to, developing program guidelines, application and review processes, all necessary contracts and reporting forms, and a communication strategy to promote the grant program and remitting to the County reporting documentation.
GOVERNMENT SERVICES & GRANT ADMINISTRATION
As Erie County experienced a loss in revenue due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, funds are being used to support government services.
Erie Area Council of Governments Implementation of Tri-County Fire & EMS Plan ($50,000)
Since 2018, the Erie Area Council of Governments has been working alongside the Erie County Department of Public Safety to lead the Erie County Fire and EMS Recruitment and Retention Committee, the role of which is to address the crisis facing fire and emergency medical services through development of a sustainable emergency services plan that ensures high quality emergency services are available to all Erie County residents. With funds received from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Erie, Crawford, and Warren Counties have joined together to engage two peer consultants to study and make recommendations for a countywide and cross-county approach to the delivery of fire and emergency medical services. Funds are allocated to support implementation of the resulting Tri-County Fire & EMS Plan.
Erie County Community College Tuition Coverage and Barrier Reduction ($1,750,000)
The Erie County Community College of PA (EC3PA) is enrolling students for its inaugural class in July 2021. EC3PA offers associate’s degree and technical skills certificate programs that provide education and training at an affordable price for available and emerging jobs that do not require a baccalaureate degree. In addition, the college provides the education many students need to succeed in a four-year program, as well as an affordable option for the first two years of college for those seeking a bachelor’s degree. To ensure the opportunity to attend EC3PA is available to all residents of Erie County, regardless of income, these funds are providing full tuition coverage for any Erie County resident enrolled. Removing the financial barrier of tuition is especially important as the college works towards accreditation, during which time federal aid is not available students. Funds are also being provided to reduce barriers for students, not related to tuition, which may prevent a student from attending or completing college. These barriers include, but are not limited to, transportation, temporary childcare, medical needs, school supplies, and technology. This investment is helping to ensure success for students enrolled at EC3PA.
Erie County Convention Center Authority ($2,000,000)
The Erie County Convention Center Authority, which maintains and operates the Bayfront Convention Center, UPMC Park (athletic field), Erie Insurance Arena, and the historic Warner Theatre, experienced a revenue shortfall of more than $12.5 million over the last 18 months due to mandated closures. Funds are supporting ongoing operations of the Authority.
Erie County Pleasant Ridge Manor Nursing Care Facility ($2,700,000)
Pleasant Ridge Manor is a county-owned skilled nursing facility located on a 25-acre estate on West Ridge Road. The facility provides 24-hour nursing care for short-term stays and long-term skilled nursing care. It experienced a revenue shortfall over the last 18 months due to circumstances created by the COVID-19 public health crisis. Funds are supporting ongoing operations of the Pleasant Ridge Manor.
Erie County Facilities and Operations ($292,000)
Facilities and Operations is prioritizing necessary building maintenance at the Public Defender’s Office (roof replacement) and Erie County Courthouse (replacement of fire pump, a device that boosts water through the fire suppression system so that water reaches the sprinklers on the upper floors; monthly inspections of the existing pump show declining performance). Both projects are critical and support Erie County government’s delivery of services to the public.
Professional/Consulting Fees ($35,000)
Erie County is contracting with two consulting firms, one specializing in financial oversight and the other in program development and implementation, to assist in the administration of its CSLFRF monies.
Erie County Community Futures Center ($280,000)
Erie County is proposing to create a 12–18-month economic recovery initiative, the focus of which will be to plan for, prioritize, and coordinate federal relief and recovery investments. The initiative will be led by an executive-level task force, made up of leaders from the public, private, and civic sectors, that will establish a clear set of plans and priorities and maximize the speed and effectiveness of the post-COVID recovery. As this effort will require dedicated energies, the intent is to hire up to three executive-level local recovery fellows who will enhance the capacity of the County and its partners to design, finance and deliver transformative revitalization.