On March 15th, it was announced that Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt had submitted a request to the City Council to go out to bid for a $26,000,000 “public safety complex,” the funding for which would include over one-third of the city’s roughly $36 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. As a diverse, working-class city, Woonsocket has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. The community has had one of the highest COVID-19 rates in the state, and the pandemic has only worsened the housing and economic crises that residents have struggled with for decades.

 

Because of the disparities Woonsocket has faced through the pandemic, ARPA funds were allocated to the city to address some of its biggest struggles. Each city was required by federal law to have multiple American Rescue Plan meetings to gather public input before deciding how to use the funds. Testimony and Survey data from the people of Woonsocket show the residents’ top priorities are housing, infrastructure, mental health and domestic violence services, community health and wellness, and water infrastructure. The city’s official ARPA survey results included 46%—nearly half—of respondents  calling for an allocation for housing. (The survey results can be found at woonsocketri.org/arpa/pages/survey).

 

Despite the clear public calls for these crucial investments, Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and the Woonsocket City Council have allocated more ARPA money for new city council desk seats than for affordable housing, community support, and harm reduction services combined. In this moment of overlapping crises, providing Woonsocket residents with basic needs such as affordable housing, healthy food access, properly-funded public schools, compassionate substance treatment, mental health supports, and harm reduction services is the most effective way to address public safety. These measures would create sustainable changes that would address the root causes of the issues we see in our community, rather than focusing on punitive responses to these issues after they occur.

 

We are calling on the City Council to reject Resolution 22-R-28 tomorrow, recommit to honoring public input through the remainder of the ARPA process, and spend the remaining ARPA funds in line with what the community of Woonsocket has clearly stated it wants and needs.

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