A new brief from the Brookings Institution think tank highlights a unique and time-limited source of funding for community-based investments to combat violent crime through non-carceral interventions: The American Rescue Plan’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery (SLFR) funds.

Noting that that most gun violence “is spatially concentrated — disproportionately occurring within a select set of high-poverty and disinvested neighborhoods, and within these neighborhoods, a select set of streets,” the paper, “Addressing the Root Causes of Gun Violence with American Rescue Plan Funds,” argues that local communities are best positioned to identify where investments are most needed.

“Community safety interventions” are now formally valid uses for SLFR funds under the Treasury Department’s amended final rule implementing the program. The department categorized gun violence and public safety as “public health issues” eligible for relief fuding.

“As analysts at Civil Rights Corps, Alliance for Safety and Justice, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and other organizations have pointed out, these flexible funds offer the largest-ever influx of federal dollars to support states and localities [in advancing] non-carceral interventions that promote a holistic vision of community safety,” report authors explained.

The American Rescue Plan is a direct relief program combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation allocated $1.9 trillion for things like last year’s child tax credits, rental assistance, relief funding for schools, states, and local governments, direct payments, and funding to distribute vaccines across the country.

In May, President Joe Biden called on cities and states to use SLFR funds on community safety and announced that $10 billion in American Rescue Plan funds have already been invested into public safety and violence prevention.

As of January, cities, counties and tribal governments across the U.S. had budgeted less than half of their allocation from the legislation. Despite spending over spring and summer 2022, there is more money to be allocated, and there is a time limit: SLFR funds must be obligated by Dec 31, 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026.

Community Investments  

The Brookings Institution highlights dozens of investments in cities, counties and states across the country in their brief, while the White House has provided short descriptions of more than 40 community allocations into public safety.

The state of Minnesota has allocated $16.8 million for investment in survivor support, violence prevention and intervention initiatives between July 2021 and June 2023 to “fill critical gaps in Minnesota’s public safety response” during the pandemic.

Minnesota used this money in part to create a $5 million grant program to award funding to local organizations pitching anti violence outreach programs and a $2.5 million violence intervention grant program.

In Danville, Va., city leaders invested both in direct violence prevention and community violence initiatives and in indirect violence prevention, including $1 million in funding to address neighborhood blight and grants to kickstart businesses in hard hit areas.

Danville’s city manager, Ken Larking, told the Brookings Institution that one development goal the city has is to never be in a crisis “where a neighborhood park has to be sacrificed because there isn’t enough money to do police services or whatever else.”

St. Louis, Mo., has allocated $5.5 million to violence interruption initiatives, including Safer Summer St. Louis, which funds pop-up community-building events run by young people and grassroots organizations in neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence.

“The benefits of addressing the root causes of gun violence go far beyond the shots you don’t hear,” the paper’s authors concluded.

They pointed toward the kind of community repair and connection the American Rescue Plan was meant to address: public health access for the sick, children playing in parks, entrepreneurs launching new business and communities connecting through social connection and economic opportunity.

After interviewing state and local government leaders about their use of American Rescue Plan funds, the Brookings Institution authors present five core recommendations for equitable and effective use of relief funds on community safety intervention:

    • Build the capacity of smaller, grassroots nonprofits to deploy funds;
    • Use meaningful community engagement strategies to work with impacted and disadvantaged communities on investment proposals and decision making;
    • Prioritize equity in both funding and the evaluation of funding impact;
    • Use data to respond to changing community needs; and
    • Create sustainable long-term funding streams that will survive past the American Rescue Plan’s eventual expiry date.

The paper was prepared by Hanna Love, a Research Associate at Brookings Metro; Anthony Barr, a senior Research Assistant at Brookings Metro; and Oluwasekemi Odumosue, a Research Intern at Brookings Metro.

The full research brief can be read here. 

Audrey Nielsen is a TCR contributing writer.

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