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Ex-Mayors Schmoke and O’Malley: Baltimore must make full use of American Rescue Plan money | READER COMMENTARY

The Domino Sugar plant is seen at twilight on Baltimore's Inner Harbor five years ago. Baltimore, and not just downtown, is expected to soon get a boost from federal stimulus money. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun).
The Domino Sugar plant is seen at twilight on Baltimore's Inner Harbor five years ago. Baltimore, and not just downtown, is expected to soon get a boost from federal stimulus money. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun). (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

With the Biden administration’s passage of the America Rescue Plan comes a once in a generation opportunity for Baltimore (”Here’s what the American Rescue Plan could mean for Baltimore,” April 8).

While Maryland is to receive $3.8 billion, Baltimore is expected to directly receive $670 million in largely discretionary spending — on top of other direct funding the city receives for Head Start, rental assistance, broadband access, food for children and families in need, support for the homeless and for low income families with children. What’s more, this $670 million comes on top of extraordinary new support for education and $350 million on additional investments for regional transit.

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We applaud Mayor Brandon Scott for recognizing the significance of this moment and beginning the process of planning for effective use of these funds. As the mayor knows, our city needs a plan to make the most of this once in a lifetime chance to build back better.

These dollars cannot be used to retire debt or reduce taxes, but they can be used for many other valuable needs like job creation, demolition, affordable housing, infrastructure and broadband. And unlike the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2008, state and city governments have far greater flexibility in how these funds are used. But, here is the catch: This enormous funding must be used by Dec. 31, 2024. We don’t have a day or a dollar to waste.

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That is why mayors across the nation are pulling together groups of stakeholders to create their plans — from neighborhoods and downtowns, from volunteers to corporate executives. Just last week, The United States Conference of Mayors put forward best practices guidance urging mayors to create “Stimulus Command Centers” — quasi public entities with inclusive board governance, proper staffing, and the ability to rapidly plan and to rapidly execute for results.

Mayor Scott has the unique ability to inspire, excite and include all our neighborhood and community, business and civic leaders in a transparent process. But he will need public and City Council support to pay for the staffing necessary to make this effort a success.

Baltimore did this very well when our federal government last invested in cities with the Empowerment Zones of the 1990s. Openness, transparency, community engagement and follow-through were the hallmarks of that effort. Thousands of families took advantage of workforce training programs to gain better jobs at higher pay. Inner Harbor East, the East Baltimore Development Initiative and the Westside were advanced from plans on drawing boards to brick and mortar realities. With even more at play and more at stake, Mayor Scott can make sure Baltimore captures all the benefits of this big federal investment.

With so many pressing needs from job creation, to infrastructure, to neighborhood redevelopment, this is the moment for Baltimore to create the better future that we all deserve.

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Kurt Schmoke and Martin O’Malley, Baltimore

The writers are, respectively, the 46th and 47th mayor of Baltimore.

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