Philbrook and Townsend

The commissioners of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, KS, are working to approve a plan for spending the $87 million in funding the UG received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), but some commissioners are not happy with the plans so far.

ARPA funding can be used to help the local economy and community recover from the pandemic, including improving public health, addressing disparities of disproportionately impacted communities and creating more stable and affordable housing.

In the Aug. 12 budget workshop, the chief financial officer presented the ARPA immediate needs report, with a request for the city to spend more than $11 million of the ARPA money immediately.

District 8 Commissioner Jane Philbrook voiced her concern that not enough funding was earmarked to support the homeless community in Wyandotte County.

The plan allots $200,000 for the Dotte Mobile Grocer, giving more than 7,000 food boxes to households, $50,000 for hygiene and personal care products and $200,000 for two bilingual housing navigators to help families secure safe and affordable housing. The plan also allots more than $300,000 in legal assistance for residents, including those facing evictions or immigration related issues.

“We already have 50 families that hit the bricks just in the last couple of weeks that are homeless. I call that an immediate need,” Philbrook said. “We have over 2,000 kiddos that are in schools in Wyandotte County that do not have homes and not all of that is being funded.”

Across the river, Kansas City, MO, spent more than $8 million in the last year to address homelessness and temporarily housed the homeless in hotels and allotted funds to community organizations that provide emergency housing, counseling, rent and utility assistance. That’s on top of their $20 million affordable housing plan.

“Don’t be living in a bubble and think that we’re not going to have ‘Tent City’ here in Wyandotte County because we are and it’s going to get much worse if we don’t address a lot of this up front and help prevent it,” Philbrook said to the chief financial officer and county administrator. She asked them to reconsider the amount of money they put into homeless populations and those living in extreme poverty.

She said the money reflected in the immediate needs report for housing is a drop in the bucket of what the county needs for the next two months to keep people housed.

Philbrook and District 1 Commissioner Gayle Townsend were also disappointed that more community input wasn’t gathered on how to spend the ARPA funds.

Townsend suggested a public meeting for the community to voice their preferences for how the immediate needs money should be spent.

Philbrook agreed and said the people in the community she has talked to say they feel left out of the conversation.

“We need community trust in this. We say we’re doing stuff, but we’re not accomplishing getting the public input. That itself is creating a major problem within our community,” Philbrook said.

The board of commissioners will have another hearing on the plan Aug. 26.

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