PROVIDENCE — At Tuesday night’s Second Congressional District debate between Republican Allan Fung and Democrat Seth Magaziner, Fung said he was focused on the cost-of-living crisis and what he believes fueled it — overspending by President Biden, including the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act.
“We have to make sure we get this spending under control, and that’s why I’m running,” Fung told moderators Ted Nesi and Tim White of WPRI. “This economy has to drive back down some of that outrageous spending coming from Washington, D.C.”
When asked whether he would have voted for the American Rescue Plan Act if he’d been in Congress when it passed early in 2021, Fung said, “It would have been too much money.”
He had a different perspective on the law last year, when he was giving webinars and pitching his legal services to help Rhode Island cities and towns use American Rescue Plan Act funds.
“Local leaders are moving at lightning speed to craft ways to strategically use this once in a generation influx of federal ARP funds to assist residents and businesses in their communities,” Fung said in a statement posted by his law firm, Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O’Gara LLC, in June 2021. “I am excited to help educate our municipal chief executives, council members, solicitors, as well as their staff about ways to visualize, mobilize and realize their greatest dreams of making a lasting impact in their communities.”
Many economists agree that the American Rescue Plan Act contributed to the high inflation that the United States is seeing right now — even more favorable analyses that also point to America’s quick recovery and other contributing factors concede the point.
But such warnings about inflation were absent from a PowerPoint accompanying a panel discussion that Fung and another person gave in June 2021. The presentation, published on the website for the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, described some of the hoops cities and towns would have to jump through to get the money, but also cited the “potential for transformative change.”
Fung, an attorney and the former mayor of Cranston, signed a contract about a month and a half later with the McKee administration’s Pandemic Recovery Office to help the state navigate the American Rescue Plan Act. Under the contract, Fung and his firm would provide legal advice to make sure that American Rescue Plan Act funds for municipal and educational purposes were used legally.
The legal contract was capped at $145,000. Although the Department of Administration could not immediately say how much was actually billed, it was probably much lower given that Fung started running for Congress in February, before the contract was up. The contract called for a rate of $200 an hour. The Department of Administration said most, if not all, of the funding to advise the state on the American Rescue Plan Act was paid by the American Rescue Plan Act.
The firm, meanwhile, last year was touting Fung’s expertise regarding the American Rescue Plan Act — as well as the law itself, describing the state and local aid as a “lifeline and positive jolt to the economy.” A legal advisory posted by the firm noted that the funds came with certain restrictions that could mean the federal government taking some of its money back, but also said: “Essentially, if the funds are properly deployed, it will assist the community in rebuilding from the carnage that this pandemic brought to Rhode Island and throughout the country.”
Fung is on leave from the firm as he pursues the Second Congressional District race, which a recent Boston Globe/Suffolk University poll showed him leading by 8 points over Magaziner.
At a City Council meeting in East Providence in December 2021, Fung mentioned to city council members his services in advising towns around the state how to use the funds. Much of that revolved around staying in compliance with federal rules on use of the funds.
In response to questions about this apparent about-face on the ARPA law — from calling it a way for cities and towns to “realize their greatest dreams of making a lasting impact in their communities” to saying it is part of America’s inflation problem — Fung’s congressional campaign said the following in an email to the Globe Wednesday:
“As a former Mayor, Allan was speaking to his willingness to help local municipalities navigate endless federal government bureaucracy. It’s the same federal government that is now making it more difficult for our private sector to grow our economy.”
Part of the overall American Rescue Plan Act was a $350 billion fund for cities and towns across the United States. Rhode Island’s state government received $1.1 billion of that, and its cities and towns received $542 million. K-12 education systems in the state received another $400 million.
At Tuesday’s debate, moderator White pressed Fung about the American Rescue Plan Act, noting that Cranston, where he was formerly mayor, had received $43 million.
The ARPA funding, Fung responded, was too much, and not targeted enough.
“I’m about targeted, strategic spending,” Fung said.
Magaziner — currently the state treasurer —supports the American Rescue Plan Act.
“Last night, Allan Fung told Rhode Islanders he supported tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires but was opposed to supporting working people,” Magaziner’s spokeswoman, Patricia Socarras, said in an email Wednesday about the debate.