Providence to Use Federal COVID Relief Funds for Reparations

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza plans to use the city’s federal COVID-19 relief funds for racial reparations. On Friday, the mayor signed a spending plan for $124 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding that will pave the way for the city to invest tens of millions of dollars into housing and infrastructure projects. Elorza has not ruled out direct payments for eligible individuals, which would include black Americans, as well as those who can prove Native American heritage.

“As a housing crisis persists across the state, the city is allocating $30.7 million to the issue, $17 million of which will go toward developing affordable units,” reported The Providence Journal. “The remainder of the category will be spent on rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, emergency housing, a home repair program and other initiatives.”

During a news conference on Friday, Esparza said spending decisions were driven by public input sought by the city’s COVID-19 Recovery and Resiliency Task Force, which was commissioned in January.

Addressing housing and homelessness was identified as a top priority by Providence respondents in a survey asking how American Rescue Plan funds should be spent, according to the city government. Input from “residents who participated in community meetings” was also weighed heavily.

Esparza justifies his city’s use of American Rescue Plan funds — which were allocated to states and municipalities by the federal government in order to deal with the economic fallout of pandemic lockdowns — by claiming the money is going to communities that were “hardest hit” by the virus. The “hardest hit” communities, according to the Providence city government, are populated by African Americans.

“We made it a point to go to those hardest hit neighborhoods and hardest hit communities and get an over-representative sample from those folks as well,” the mayor said. “But it still did not change the fundamental reality that regardless of where you are throughout the city, we have the same priorities.”

$10 million of the $124 million spending package will be going towards a racial reparations program in Providence. A committee will decide how exactly the funds will be spent, but the mayor has not ruled out direct payments to eligible recipients.

A 13-member panel has been tasked with examining reparation work being done in other municipalities and creating recommendations for ways the city can distribute the funds. NAACP Providence President Jim Vincent is among those already tapped to serve on the board, Elorza said.

“While we know the city alone cannot repair the full scope of harm, today’s action brings us another step closer to addressing the disparities our African heritage and Indigenous residents continue to face,” the mayor said in a written statement.

The Providence city government commissioned the reparations committee in 2020.

RELATED: California Task Force Votes to Provide Reparations to Descendants of Slaves

Cullen McCue