WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Friday urged states and cities to use unspent money from last year’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package to fund crime prevention programs and hire police officers.
The president stressed the need for more funding of public safety programs at a White House event with mayors and law enforcement officials.
“To every governor, every mayor, every county official, the need is clear, my message is clear: Spend this money now; use these funds we made available to you; prioritize public safety,” Biden said. “Do it quickly before the summer, when crime rates typically surge.”
A number of major cities have reported surges in crime rates since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The White House said it is pushing local governments to spend the money before the summer months, when there has historically been more violent crime compared to winter months.
At least $10 billion from the American Rescue Plan, which Congress passed in March 2021, has already been committed to public safety programs, including domestic violence prevention efforts, drug abuse and mental health services, and bonuses for hiring and retaining police officers, the White House said.
About $6.5 billion was allocated in 2021 by 300 localities and more than half of states, including $2 billion for crime prevention programs to ease the burden on police and $1 billion for bonuses to help recruit and retain public safety workers, the White House said.
"We have plenty out there, the thing is that the governors have to loosen it up, make it available," Biden said at Friday's event.
Without those funds, many cities would have been forced to cut back on public safety spending because of budget shortfalls after the economic impact of the pandemic and the additional costs it imposed on local governments, the White House added.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who spoke at Friday’s White House press briefing, said funding from last year's Covid relief bill "has filled an important and vital gap."
"If not for the American Rescue Plan, officers would have lost their jobs, salaries would have been frozen and our city would have become more dangerous," the Democratic mayor said. "Instead, we have been able to invest in a number of vital and important areas."
The rescue plan also included $350 billion to help governors, mayors and other local leaders support their responses to and recovery from the pandemic.
As crime continues to rise in parts of the country, Republicans have sought to make it a key issue in the midterm elections, accusing Democrats of being in favor of “defunding” police departments.
Biden, who has increasingly pushed back against that narrative, maintains that he is for funding the police and has accused Republicans of supporting cuts to police budgets, citing their opposition to the American Rescue Plan.
“The American Rescue Plan has enabled these mayors and other state and local leaders to shore up their budgets and invest in public safety,” the White House said in a statement. “Unfortunately, every Republican in Congress voted against the American Rescue Plan public safety funding for cities and rural counties across the country.”
The Biden administration has also been looking to tout the Covid relief bill as one of the president’s top policy achievements, along with the $550 billion infrastructure package, as it makes the case to keep Democrats in power ahead of the elections this fall.