In the weeks and months that followed the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic - it became apparent that the federal government needed to step in to help provide financial aid to local governments and businesses; most of that aid came in the form of the American Rescue Plan Act, and was targeted to provide the help at the state level.

Each of the 50 states. the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico submitted funding requests with perhaps hundreds of thousands of different ways to use the roughly $1.9 trillion available from the federal government.

With that large amount of dollars and a similar large number of applicants, it stands to reason that financial prudency (i.e. how "well" each grant request was used) probably varied widely across the spectrum. But how do you quantify that?

To help provide a marker by which to compare, the Center on Budget and Policy recently completed a review process. That study detailed how much money each state received, how much was appropriated, and what it was spent on or invested in.

The report shows that while some states made prudent financial choices, others may not have. It also details that a state that many of us call "home" performed pretty well.

The top story out of the report:  Out of all of the states and territories that were granted funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, Wisconsin came out on top in regards to how much of the money they received actually went to "economic development". And their top spot ranking outperformed the second-place state by a large amount.

Pile of Money
Ingram Publishing

According to the Center on Budget and Policy's report - and summarized in an article in the Superior Telegram [paywall], Wisconsin performed well on the merits by which the states were graded:

"The study found that nearly 56 percent of Wisconsin's American Rescue Plan Act funds were spent to promote the economy, which equates to about $1.1 billion.  The next closest state allocated 38 percent for economic development."

If the main purpose of the federal funds was to help support and also kick-start a stalled economy caused by the pandemic, spending the ARPA funds on the economy should have been fundamental.

Here are some of the items that Wisconsin spent their ARPA dollars, along with the dollar amounts for each:

  • General economic development:  $363.3 million
  • Workforce development:  $130 million
  • Assistance to businesses:  $641.7 million
  • Broadband expansion:  $112.9 million
  • Human services:  $56 million
  • Public safety:  $45 million
  • State operations:  $550 million

According to State of Wisconsin officials, the spending was part of a strategic effort to not only help constituents short term but longer term as well. Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. CEO Missy Hughes explains:

"In the early days of the COVID-19 emergency....[Wisconsin Governor Tony] Evers focused on using federal funds for helping small businesses survive.  But as the pandemic continued....the governor began thinking about the long-term economic vitality of the state.  'As the Governor deployed the federal dollars....he recognized that there was an immediate need, and then there was, 'what can we do to lay the groundwork for the future?'"

The full report from the Center on Budget and Policy - included an interactive model - is available online.

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