HOUSTON – After over three years, the COVID-19 pandemic is officially over.
President Joe Biden signed legislation last month to bring an end to the public health emergency crisis on May 11.
In the early days of the pandemic, the Trump Administration quickly passed the American Rescue Plan Act. The act was designed to help families and businesses stay afloat as the world’s economy was rapidly sinking due to the surge in coronavirus cases.
However, now with the official declaration to the end of the pandemic, there are questions about what it will mean for cities and communities that have relied on these dollars, even building new programs with the funds.
In February of 2022, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner launched the One Safe Houston Public Safety Initiative to drive down violent crime.
“Every Houstonian deserves to feel safe,” said Turner.
At the time, homicides were surging uncontrollably and the violence across the city was described as a “public health crisis” by Mayor Turner.
The 18-page initiative consisted of various strategies with a price tag of approximately $44 million.
Since then, the total has climbed to $68 million, according to Mayor Turner. But, he is quick to admit the end of the pandemic translates to the end of ARPA dollars.
“Once there is a declaration that the pandemic is over, then you are not going to see any major federal dollars coming this way,” he said.
As a result of this initiative, the homicide rate in Houston is down 20% lower than in 2022.
The question now is will the programs like One Safe Houston disappear without the support of federal dollars?
“A lot of the initiatives that we have put into place, we have provided funding, not just for this year, but for next year or the year after,” said Turner.
This means Houston’s next mayor will have to tackle public safety without the money that Washington D.C. has been providing. However, keep in mind Houston is not alone. This is a challenge local governments are facing everywhere.
“This has been billions and billions of taxpayer dollars spent all over the state and it has to come to an end,” said State Senator Paul Bettencourt.
Houston and Harris County received well over $1 billion combined with much of it budgeted for future use, according to officials.
What about the potential rise in local taxes because ARPA dollars are coming to an end? Is this a legitimate concern?
“You can be concerned because you don’t know how taxing units are going to react to this, but the schools have the highest reserves they’ve ever had because of the ARPA and so does cities and counties. So, the reality is they just have to stop spending free federal money,” said Bettencourt.
Easy to say, but hard to do because ARPA dollars have been utilized to create key social services. Some of those services citizens have not only used, but now rely on.
“If suddenly some of that money has to be diverted over to these social programs, then that means the infrastructure is going to go bad. If the social programs are dropped, the people who have benefitted from those are going to go, ‘Wait a minute, you started us on this and now you are cutting us off,’” said Ed Emmett, KPRC 2 Political Analyst and former Harris County Judge.
Emmett believes ARPA funds were a good thing, but he’s also quick to point out that local governments will soon face tough decisions in determining what are the priorities.
“Either infrastructure is going to suffer or some social problems that have been put in place are going to go away,” said Emmett.
Turner tells KPRC 2 Investigates he will continue to put pressure on crime to keep the downward trend going.