After escaping from slavery in 1838, Frederick Douglas became a national leader of the abolitionist movement and later started an antislavery newspaper in Rochester, New York, called The North Star.
Almost 200 years later, the North Star Coalition is continuing Frederick Douglas’ efforts to create a just and equitable Rochester. Comprising philanthropic, business, labor, political, nonprofit, clergy, and education leaders, the coalition focuses on getting resources into the hands of people who have previously been excluded from economic growth—especially people of color.
Before the pandemic, Rochester ranked 241st of 274 cities on overall inclusion, 236th on economic inclusion, and 223rd on racial inclusion. The coalition understands that failing to close these gaps would not only hurt the most economically vulnerable people in Rochester but also the economy overall (PDF).
To promote an inclusive recovery, the North Star Coalition is using evidence and capitalizing on unprecedented federal funding opportunities. The Urban Institute is providing evidence and rigorous analysis to help inform this effort. Here are a couple steps the coalition is taking that could inform other cities’ recovery efforts.
Identify strong partners
The first step in promoting an equitable and inclusive recovery is bringing together stakeholders from diverse groups, including those who represent historically excluded populations, such as residents with low incomes and people of color, and those who hold the power to make decisions, such as political and business leaders.
The North Star coalition is bringing these diverse stakeholders together by first asking them to sign a pledge to get recovery dollars into the hands of those that have been marginalized. In this way, the coalition is treating inclusive recovery almost like a political candidate—campaigning for people to support it.
Identify the funds available to promote an inclusive recovery
Both to encourage various stakeholders to join the coalition and to help them make equitable decisions moving forward, the North Star Coalition is using evidence from research organizations like Urban to identify flexible funds that could be used toward such an effort.
Our team found that, through recent legislation, the federal government is investing unprecedented levels of funds in states and localities, and jurisdictions have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leverage these funds to implement recovery plans that directly address inequities. Our analysis showed how much larger these funds are than one-off competitive grants, and, thus, helped shift the coalition’s focus and strategy toward larger pots of flexible funding going straight to their local governments rather than to smaller competitive grants.
The March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) both provided flexible recovery funds to state and local governments. They, along with the December 2020 Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), authorized additional targeted grants in aid for state and local governments that could be spent on inclusive recovery programs. These recovery funds—$1 trillion of which can be used flexibly to promote an inclusive recovery—represent an unprecedented infusion of money to state and local governments that eclipse the $280 billion that went to state and local governments after the Great Recession.
General fiscal relief and flexible funding—ARPA Fiscal Recovery Funds and CARES Coronavirus Relief Funds—make up most of the funding to state and local governments and can be used broadly. State and local governments also received significant recovery funding for K–12 education, transportation, infrastructure, and housing, though recovery funds for economic, workforce, and community development were more limited and could be supplemented by flexible funds.
We found that the city of Rochester will receive $234 million in total funding, Monroe County (where Rochester is located) will receive $312 million, and the Rochester City School District will receive $296 million. The school district allocations include $87 million and $197 million from two rounds of Elementary and Secondary Education Relief funding. Not shown in the figure is the $109 million that has been allocated to the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority.
With this information, local coalitions can help leaders determine how and where to spend these funds to best accomplish an inclusive recovery. Groups like the North Star Coalition can use this information to empower residents to push their leaders to use these dollars equitably.
Urban will continue to provide evidence and analyses to help inform the North Star Coalition, including information about how to best engage community who have been historically excluded from decisionmaking, analyses of how well current allocations align with previously existing community goals, and best practices for the use of funds—such as how to roll out their already allocated $14 billion in workforce development funds in a way that maximizes benefits both for recipients of that initiative and the economy overall.
The COVID-19 federal relief funds give localities a unique opportunity to address long-standing patterns of inequity and ensure they are promoting an inclusive recovery. Community groups can draw on the techniques used by the North Star Coalition and evidence from Urban and other research organizations to further this goal.
The Urban Institute has the evidence to show what it will take to create a society where everyone has a fair shot at achieving their vision of success.