“[T]he American Rescue Plan … provided $350 billion that cities, states, and counties can use to hire more police, invest in more proven strategies like community violence interruption, trusted messengers,” Biden said during his State of the Union address this year.
“We should all agree the answer is not to defund the police,” he continued. “It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them. Fund them with the resources and training — resources and training they need to protect our communities.”
That’s indeed what thousands of state and local governments did with the federal COVID-19 relief funds they received. While the Treasury Department’s lax reporting requirements make it difficult to track exactly how much was spent on law enforcement, corrections and courts, a Marshall Project review of the latest data shows that billions of dollars flowed to the criminal justice system by the first quarter of 2022, from covering payroll to purchasing new equipment. So far, governments have allocated $101 billion of the total $350 billion.
With few limitations on how local governments can allocate ARPA funds, the spending will likely continue reflecting each municipality’s priorities and values. In many cases, the money flows to programs and institutions not with the greatest need during a public health crisis and economic upheaval, but those with the most existing political and budgetary power: police, corrections and the courts.
Here's an example of how local government spent the federal COVID-19 relief fund on the criminal justice system.