Using the American Rescue Plan funds wisely

Marc Molinaro

Too often money is directed to special interests. Pork barrel spending often prevails — politicians giving money to specific people and industries, depending on their supporters. In Dutchess County we do it differently. We invest in people.

It’s not uncommon for governments to unveil programs touting millions of dollars in spending. Before long, the money is spent and people’s lives haven’t changed. Too often, that’s the cost of doing business in New York. That’s why the American Rescue Plan funds, specifically allocated to help taxpayers after the struggles of the global pandemic, need to be carefully invested by local governments, in the people who have lost so much from the pandemic. Our spending plan took months of preparation and Dutchess County is proud to put the people first in our priorities.

Day in and day out we talk to real people experiencing real difficulties. These things range from limited internet access to hopes for a vaccine, to securing free meals for seniors. We’re always listening and trying to devise ways to confront these real obstacles facing our communities. Because of those close relationships to the residents of Dutchess County, we have spent years planning ahead, developing our priorities, listening to the community, taking public comment and using that to build a consensus.

With the unexpected delivery of American Rescue Plan funds we were able to move more quickly on our long-established plans based on these interactions with our residents. Most recently, we were able to launch the “Dutchess Invests” program. This plan to utilize these federal funds targets specific areas within our communities that have been hit hard by COVID-19 and its restrictions. No special interests — just helping our people survive and thrive.

In many ways our children have suffered the most throughout the pandemic and with these funds we hope to begin to right these wrongs. Investing in our youth is crucial for a successful future and Dutchess Invests does just that. Our “Learn, Play, Create” initiative supports our kids with more than $13 million in grants for non-profit organizations that enhance community opportunities for children.

Libraries, sports leagues, and art programs are just a few of the eligible youth programs that may apply for these grants—and most of these organizations have been forced to shut down or limit services significantly over the past 18 months. These organizations often cultivate our fondest childhood memories—on the soccer field, reading your favorite book or learning to play an instrument. Our young people have been forced to exist without these outlets for far too long, and we need to go above and beyond where we were pre-pandemic.

Investing in our people doesn’t stop with our children. We’re spending nearly $11 million in entrepreneurial and job skill development initiatives. With the unemployment rate lower than its peak during the pandemic, we still need to get people back to work.

Whether that be through the job programs, youth programs or our other initiatives—like building out better broadband and improving our water and sewer infrastructure—it’s important that every day residents of Dutchess County get to directly benefit from these federal relief funds. Investing directly into our community and our people is the best way to move forward after such a difficult 18 months.

As always, we are also making sure to invest in mental health initiatives and programs, even more now in light of the pandemic and the accompanying burden it put on so many. We’re going to be purchasing a new mobile unit to enhance our 24/7 mental health services and ensure our communities are being taken care of.

Everyone has felt this pandemic in one way or another. Many of us have lost loved ones, others have lost jobs and we all lost our sense of security and normalcy. Unfortunately we cannot bring back those we’ve lost. But we can continue to invest in our surrounding communities and work towards a better future, together. And we will continue to listen.

Marc Molinaro has been Dutchess County Executive since 2012 and has held elected office since 1994. He lives in Red Hook with his wife, Corinne, and his four children, Abagail, Jack, Eli, and Theo.

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