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Why Biden's plan for unspent Covid funds will spur controversy

The president urged states to use unspent Covid funds, and some of the recipients of those funds should spark some concern.


President Joe Biden on Friday urged states to use Covid relief funding on public safety measures, with a particular focus on law enforcement.

The announcement comes as officials nationwide devise ways to combat the expected uptick in crime during the summer months. But Biden's guidance is complicated by recollections of the massive protests that erupted across the country during summer of 2020, when the power and dominance of the U.S. police state came into clear view. 

According to a fact sheet the White House released Friday, Biden wants states and cities to use unspent money from the American Rescue Plan Act passed last year to fund “strategies to make our communities safer and to deploy as many dollars as possible before the summer months when many communities historically experience a seasonal increase in violent crime.”

Putting Covid funding toward law enforcement, the administration said, is the "cornerstone" of a gun crime reduction agenda Biden released in June.

The White House outlined possible uses for the funds, including technical improvements to emergency services like 911 and expanding re-entry employment programs for formerly incarcerated people. Other uses involve giving funds directly to law enforcement agencies to hire more police and construct new police precincts. 

That’s certain to arouse concern among civil rights activists who’ve been sounding the alarm on Covid relief funds being used to bolster already-large police budgets. 

An article published by The Appeal in March detailed examples of states like Oklahoma and Alabama funneling millions of dollars in Covid relief funds to law enforcement entities — including to jails and prisons.

According to The Appeal:

Now, two years into a devastating pandemic, the COVID relief funds in ARPA could present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build institutions that can make a meaningful and lasting impact in ways that increasing police budgets and expanding prisons cannot. By investing in infrastructure that supports and uplifts, rather than punishes and destabilizes, communities could begin to fundamentally realign their approach to public health and safety—but they’ll have to be willing to fight for it.

The unspent Covid relief funds can surely be placed toward things communities require. But if past is prologue, there’s a risk that they could be used to inflict harm, and the Biden administration should beware.