Federal funds to help New Castle County implement ‘equity agenda’

Samantha Del Angel receives a COVID-19 vaccine

Samantha Del Angel gets her second COVID-19 vaccine shot from Westside medical assistant Lizmary Ortega. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

New Castle County plans to spend millions of its share of the American Rescue Plan to create a more level and more equitable playing field for residents living in underserved communities.

County Executive Matt Meyer says the federal funds offered to the county because of the pandemic will be used to address ongoing inequities that have been unveiled over the past year and a half of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve learned a lot in the last 18 months,” Meyer said outside the Route 9 Library just south of Wilmington. “In the last 18 months, we’ve seen some of the racial hatred that continues even here in our community. Racial hatred that our predecessors never addressed comprehensively.”

The county will receive more than $100 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds from the federal government over the next two years. Meyer says the county should use that money to “reimagine our county, particularly with a focus on equity, on jobs, and on housing.”

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He pointed to a 2015 income inequality study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston that found a massive gap in the net worth of Black families compared to white families.

“I think that sort of set us up for a lot of the inequality in outcomes that we saw,” Meyers said of the disparate impact COVID-19 has had on different racial and economic groups. “The fact is that a virus that treats every human body the same was more lethal in some communities than others.”

Part of Meyers’ plan to address some of those disparities includes $5 million to start the Building Better Communities initiative.

As part of that effort, the county has formed a commission to develop ways to increase community engagement and reduce violence.

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“We’re going to intervene. We’re going to work together. This program, these activities have my unconditional support,” said County Councilman Jae Street. “We’re in trouble as a nation as it relates to violence. And this is going on in Chicago, it’s going on in Philly. I ain’t got nothing to do with that. We’re first in a lot of things here, we should be first in stopping this violence.”

The county will also work with the Red Clay School District on a counseling program to help kids who have experienced trauma. The Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity will also reach out to help kids through the Kappa Cares Initiative.

“They will be providing after school and weekend programming at the Achievement Center [in Wilmington], creating a safe haven for youth residing in the city of Wilmington,” said Vanessa Phillips, the county’s chief administrative officer. “It will include educational gaming and game tournaments, DJ training, chess training, STEM programs, financial literacy and job mentoring.”

Half a million dollars will support extending the county’s National Health Corps program, which had been scheduled to shut down at the end of the year. The NHC is part of the Americorps program that uses federal dollars to pay employees working to improve community access to health care.

Since the beginning of this year, they’ve been working to eliminate structurally oppressive policies and practices that contribute to racial health disparities. That includes things like identifying demographic or cultural groups that are underrepresented in a particular program or reaching out to underrepresented groups to better understand what barriers exist that reduce their representation.

Another $1 million will be used to strengthen commercial corridors in areas that have been historically underserved by businesses like the area along Route 9 south of Wilmington.

Earlier this month, Meyer announced plans to spend $30 million in ARPA money to increase the supply of affordable housing in the county for both renters and buyers.

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