The American Rescue Plan is Sending Millions to County Governments That Don’t Exist
Analysts are still sifting through the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to find out where all of the money is going. One rather amazing finding: hundreds of millions of dollars are slated for county governments that don’t exist.
According to the Tax Foundation:
The government of Hartford County, Connecticut is in line to receive $173 million in local aid under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). There’s only one problem: the government of Hartford County doesn’t exist, nor do any of Connecticut’s other counties have county-level government despite being allocated a collective $691 million under the bill.
The traditional county lines are useful for certain purposes, like electing a few countywide officials, but there is no proper county government to receive, let alone spend, these funds.
Similarly, Rhode Island counties receive $205 million, but Rhode Island doesn’t have counties, at least not as anything more than convenient jurisdictional lines.
Another $15 million worth of local Fiscal Recovery Funds goes to Alaska’s Unorganized Borough, which is—in a word—unorganized. It is a collection of sparsely populated Census districts across the state, has no centralized functions or authority, and is simply the catch-all classification for the roughly 50 percent of Alaska land that is not part of the 19 Organized Boroughs. Actual government administration in the Unorganized Borough is at the city level.
Eight of Massachusetts’ 14 county governments were dissolved since the 1990s, but they are still entitled to $942 million in aid, while the six “functional” counties get another $395 million even though their budgets are quite small. Norfolk County’s entire FY 2021 revenues were $19.5 million, since most governmental functions in Massachusetts are carried out by cities and towns, but Norfolk is entitled to $137 million in Fiscal Recovery Funds under the American Rescue Plan Act—seven times its annual budget.
And so on. It’s safe to say someone will show up to accept the checks when they start arriving. But that’s not the case everywhere:
In a few states, moreover, the federal government has allocated money to counties with no functioning governments at all. Several may have no entity even capable of certifying for the funds, but others may be able to do so despite having no conventional functions to spend it on, or, in the case of Massachusetts’ functional counties, even though the aid vastly outstrips their budgets.
Part of the reason for passing the Rescue Plan was to prove to Americans that their government could deliver for them.
This snafu is evidence that government is very good at making a fool of itself. With your money.