Where an Ohio town wants Biden’s Build Back Better funds to go | Joe Biden News
Dayton, Ohio, USA – For much of the 20th century, Dayton, Ohio was a pioneering powerhouse of industry and innovation, home to the Wright Brothers, LexisNexis, and numerous automobile factories.
Since then, it has suffered the same fate that has befallen many American factory towns: the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs and the gutting of entire communities. In the case of Dayton, this experiment ended with the closure of a General Motors plant in 2008 with the loss of 2,400 jobs.
With a metropolitan population of approximately 800,000 people, Dayton today is a city in flux. As in many Midwestern communities, gun violence, fallout from the opioid crisis, and segregation sit alongside new breweries, a burgeoning arts scene, and popular outdoor trails.
Now, thanks to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus package championed by US President Joe Biden that was signed into law last March, Dayton and hundreds of struggling communities like she across the United States is counting on $350 billion for state and local governments that they hope will improve the daily lives of their residents.
The city of Dayton is expected to receive $138 million from these funds. And the much-needed injections of cash don’t stop there. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in November will see $1.2 trillion spent nationwide on roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs. Tens of billions have been allocated to Ohio.
All of this begs the question: where should the money be spent?
what people think
For community leader Cherrelle Gardner – who helps run the Co-op Dayton business incubator and a makerspace in West Dayton, a predominantly African-American poor neighborhood – the priority should be on human infrastructure, such as care children and the elderly, as well as reducing the urban scourge. She believes, however, that tackling one problem in isolation will not solve the region’s problems.
There is this intertwined issue between food, jobs and housing.
“There’s this problem between food, jobs and housing – the reason people can’t afford houses is because we don’t have jobs that pay for those houses and for food,” she told Al Jazeera. “In these neighborhoods you’ll almost exclusively find these low-wage jobs.”
The City of Dayton said it plans to spend $138 million in ARPA funding to demolish more than 1,000 vacant homes, shore up its own income tax revenue lost during the coronavirus pandemic, develop park and support other community projects.
Analysts say that while communities across the country stand to benefit from the cash injections, those struggling with depressed economies will particularly benefit.
“The key point here is that industrial cities have often been in recession for years, long before the pandemic hit,” said Mark Muro, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Some of these towns have seen constant winnowing of people, businesses and tax revenues for decades.”
This shrinkage, Muro believes, has steadily reduced their “fiscal space” – the ability to undertake projects comfortably. “So the infusions of bailout cash are particularly welcome in these areas,” he told Al Jazeera.
Dayton is deeply divided along racial lines. It ranked as the 15th most segregated city in the nation on a 2017 list compiled by news outlet 24/7 Wall St, based on data from the US Census Bureau.
This chasm is also evident in income inequality. According to the Census Bureau, non-Latino white residents of the Dayton metro area have a median annual household income of $71,664, compared to $43,862 for African American residents.
“The problem here is that if you can afford a good quality house and food, then you leave the [West Dayton] community for communities where you have easy access to homes and food,” Gardner said, “so the tax base is constantly falling.
Using cash to close the poverty gap is a common thread. “For me, investment really has to be in neighborhoods, almost exclusively in inner city neighborhoods that have real issues with derelict properties,” said Peter Benkendorf, who runs the Dayton Collaboratory, a civic innovation lab. “There is a lack of viable structures for small businesses that meet the immediate needs of their residents.
A tornado outbreak that hit the area in May 2019 damaged or destroyed more than 2,200 homes and buildings, including many in West Dayton. The following year, the pandemic hit new and small businesses hard, especially clothing stores and minority-owned breweries. Residents say the demand for financial support is acute: When city officials opened up some of ARPA’s funding to the public last year, local organizations requested more than double the total funds available.
“Is this money going to have an impact? The cynical side of me says no,” Benkendorf told Al Jazeera. “We need systemic change and I’m not sure that any of the investments made will lead to any systemic change. [But it’s] better to have $138 million than not, of course.
Failure to pass the ambitious Build Back Better Act, mired for months in political wrangling in Washington, D.C., could have huge consequences for communities across the country in the long run, at a time when 10 million children are at risk of falling back into poverty after the Advanced Monthly Child Tax Credit program expires at the end of December.
But some critics say increased spending would further fuel inflation – which disproportionately hurts low-income households as it consumes a greater share of their financial resources. Senator Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who has been accused of blocking the law, suggested that “inflation could really hurt a lot of Americans, especially those who need it most.”
A report suggests Ohio families could earn up to $14,000 in additional support and benefits if the Build Back Better initiative becomes law.
Revitalizing downtown to strengthen the community
Originally from Dayton, Jennifer Sydor moved to New York in 2002 and lived there until recently, working at Rutgers University and dancing for the Metropolitan Opera. But when the pandemic hit New York in March 2020, she and her family decided to leave their one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn and shelter in place with Sydor’s mother in Dayton. Six months later, the family moved permanently back to Ohio.
“[There’s] the low cost of living, there is so much access to nature and there are bigger cities [close by]”, she told Al Jazeera. Her three-year-old son now has his own bedroom. “We have an office for Dan [her husband]. We have a basement. It’s been really, really wonderful for our family. Sydor says she was also pleasantly surprised by the town’s “rich dance community.”
But there are still issues plaguing the region, she said, such as segregation. Sydor thinks encouraging more people to come downtown would help solve this pernicious problem.
Efforts are underway to achieve this. Around $90 million has been spent to redevelop a section of a century-old cluster of iconic buildings known as the Arcade which opened last year after sitting empty for 30 years. The number of dwellings has increased by 77% over the last decade.
People still need things to do downtown, Sydor said, and spending ARPA funds on arts programs is one way to help promote that.
“There are free concerts [in summer], which are fantastic,” she said. “[But] we need more events, more free events… more people on the streets.