By Anastasia Valeeva, TRACE Investigative Reporting Fellow 2022

Anastasia Valeeva

Since the first day I joined The Marshall Project in January as part of my fellowship, I’ve been tracking and organizing ARPA expenditures with my colleagues. In early April, at the Poynter webinar series “Follow The Money: American Rescue Plan,” we showed the prototype of our database tool to a wider audience of journalists. 

What is ARPA and why is it important to track it? 

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act was signed by President Joe Biden in March 2021. The federal spending is intended to aid public health and economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The act includes $350 billion in emergency funding for state, local and territorial and tribal governments. 

The scale of this funding is unprecedented in our era – it’s been almost 40 years since the last time money was distributed to local governments at this scale. So is the complexity. 

The U.S. Treasury requires recipients to comply with the reporting responsibilities. But the flexibility it provides means that exactly how this money is going to be spent is pretty much up to the governments themselves. This is where journalists, researchers and watchdog groups should come in. 

Who is reporting what? 

If you want to track how her government is spending ARPA funds, the first thing you should do is understand what the reporting requirements are, and they differ for different governments. There are six reporting tiers that all recipients fall into based on jurisdiction type, population and amount of award, and three main types of report collected: Interim Report, Project & Expenditure Report, and Recovery Plan Performance Report. The tiering is illustrated in this diagram by the US Treasury, as shown on this screenshot: 

The Interim Report and Project & Expenditure Report are tables, similar in structure across the governments. They report spending according to the “expenditure categories” as defined by the Treasury. The Recovery Plan Performance reports are text-based PDFs that provide project-level spending, the most granular level of analysis.  Spending assigned to one category can be split up between several projects. 

All of these reports are currently being provided by the Treasury, and reporters can search and download them, one at a time. But how does one track all of this data as a whole?

The Marshall Project ARPA Dashboard

 This is what the data team at The Marshall Project has been working on: we scraped and systematized all of the information provided by each government to the Treasury. This includes 3,777 Interim Reports and nearly 400 Recovery Plans. All of this goes into a database that  allows keyword search, filtering and other analysis of the data. 

While The Marshall Project is focused on covering criminal justice, we realize that ARPA funding is much bigger than one topic. So by making this dashboard available to the others in the media, we are hoping to achieve two goals: get some new partners to monitor the spending on law enforcement together; and allow the wider audience of journalists to get easier access to ARPA data. If you’d like to check the prototype, you can fill out this form.