SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City is getting $87 million from the latest round of federal COVID-19 relief dollars, and Mayor Erin Mendenhall said the city will invest most of it into an "equitable" and "sustainable" recovery from the pandemic.
"This sum of money isn't just a helping hand," Mendenhall told reporters Thursday during a news conference at Jordan Park, 1032 S. 900 West. "I see it as a slingshot that's going to be able to thrust us into the future."
Mendenhall said the COVID-19 pandemic has "challenged everyone in the city" and the nation, but said "our communities of color have been the hardest hit."
"But today, I'm happy and hopeful as I stand here today to tell you that help is here in Salt Lake City," Mendenhall said, pointing to President Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan Act.
The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was passed by Democrats in Congress and signed by Biden but criticized by members of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation, who called it wasteful and largely unneeded in a state with one of the healthiest economies in the country. Utah as a state is expected to receive an estimated $7 billion to $8 billion.
Mendenhall, mayor of the mostly Democratic capital city of Utah, welcomed the funds to further her goal to bring more "equity" and "sustainability" to Salt Lake City.
Mendenhall said city officials are still waiting for "specific guidance" from federal treasury officials on the exact parameters placed on how the funds will be spent, but "what I can promise you today is that my administration is committed to ensuring that there's equity in every dollar of our strategy for spending this $87 million."
The mayor promised the federal dollars will be spent with a focus on three principles: "equitable economic recovery," "stability and opportunity" for city residents, and city services.
The bulk of the $87 million, she said, "will be invested in our community through programs and infrastructure" that align with those principles.
Mendenhall held her news conference while standing next to a new solar-powered WiFi-enabled, charging picnic table — one of several other solar-powered park tables and benches that have been installed in the city, specifically concentrated in west-side areas "to address where our digital divide is the greatest."
This sum of money isn't just a helping hand. I see it as a slingshot that's going to be able to thrust us into the future.
–Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall
Mendenhall pointed to those solar-powered tables the city has already installed — where residents can charge their phones and get free internet connection — as the work city officials have already begun to address the digital divide, and she said the additional federal funds will help "build on that work."
"COVID relief really helped to jump-start a lot of the important efforts, including digital equity in the city," Mendenhall said. "There is an incredible opportunity to do so much good with these dollars coming from the federal government."
Mendenhall called on Salt Lake City residents to give input on how they think the money should be spent.
"I want Salt Lakers to be able to look around their city and see the tangible impact on their lives on their neighborhoods, their quality of life here, from these dollars we've yet to invest," she said. "Please work with us help us know what the priorities and the needs are, as you've done over the last year. We're about to make some tremendous change here in the city."
Mendenhall said the additional dollars will mean "keeping people housed and helping the homeless. It means sustaining and starting businesses, and supporting families through child care and other opportunities."
"We want to support your access to a good job. We want to support your business. We want to support your ability to launch new business. And we want to support your children and their ability to have mentorship, great after-school programming, and future jobs right here in the city that they're growing up in," Mendenhall said.
She said the first batch of money is expected to hit city coffers in the next month or so, and the second half is expected in about a year.
"Even though the details and the specifics on how we can spend those dollars are yet to come from the United States Treasury office, we know right now that we will be given greater flexibility than we saw in 2020 and early 2021 with the previous dollars from the federal government," Mendenhall said.
"And that flexibility is going to allow us to be truly innovative as we work through every dollar to have an equitable and evolutionary recovery for Salt Lake City."