by Lee Harris, Shelby County Mayor —
Thanks to President Joe Biden’s leadership, we are set to address even more of the many needs of Shelby County residents hit hard by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
In March, President Biden signed into law the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, which means more added resources for Memphis and Shelby County.
This historic legislation is designed to help communities recover from the dual health and economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
In Shelby County, we produced a spending plan that allows us to continue programs already in place, add new ones and bolster organizations that stepped up over the last year.
After a great deal of collaboration with the Shelby County Commission, our plan passed with strong bipartisan support. There is so much we will accomplish with these new resources. Here are a few highlights.
Few institutions have been stretched to capacity like our local hospitals. During some of our worst surges, tallies were kept for public and private hospitals on available ICU beds and there were fears about hospitals reaching capacity.
Shelby County government is investing $19.1 million in Regional One and more than $9 million for other local hospitals using federal dollars.
Shortly after the pandemic hit, we saw long lines of cars at food pantries across Shelby County. Residents who lost jobs still needed to feed their families.
Since then, the Mid-South Food Bank has seen contributions decline, while the need grew exponentially. The $3 million in ARPA funds allotted to the Mid-South Food Bank will provide 9 million meals for families across Shelby County.
We have provided $2 million to expand property tax relief for the elderly, disabled and disabled veterans.
These matching funds expand a state tax relief program. It raises the average maximum amount of tax relief from approximately $250 to $500 for seniors and disabled residents. For disabled veterans, that amount increases from about $1,500 to $3,000.
Last year, more than 8,100 residents received tax relief through this program. It is expected that with the county’s matching program, even more will apply.
Meanwhile, the economic challenges caused by the pandemic created difficulties throughout our county. For that reason, we included a $3 million allotment for transitional housing for residents experiencing homelessness.
We also provided $10,000 in funding so that World Relief Memphis could buy one-time-use beds for the Afghan refugees who recently arrived in Shelby County.
Since the withdrawal of American and NATO troops from Afghanistan in August, more than 123,000 Afghans were airlifted from their homeland.
The 20-year conflict in Afghanistan was our nation’s longest military engagement. During that time, thousands of Afghan people aided our troops. They worked as translators, guides and in other capacities.
Helping these refugees settle here, find their footing and feel welcomed in our community is the very least we can do to repay a huge debt.
It is no secret that the recruitment of employees for essential public safety jobs has been difficult in Shelby County and across the nation.
With ARPA money, the county will invest in recruitment incentives for county law enforcement personnel, including officers for the Division of Corrections and deputy sheriffs.
Plus, we now have the resources to double the capacity of our mental health court, which will help give those with mental illnesses the support they need to get well and stay out of the criminal justice system.
Over the last 22 months, the COVID pandemic battered us all and strained local governments. These new federal dollars afford us the resources we need to move forward, bolster our communities and continue our recovery.
(Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris is a fifth-generation Memphian, a graduate of Overton High School, Morehouse College and the Yale Law School.)