Asked to weigh in with pennies on how Evanston should allocate millions in federal pandemic aid, 4th Ward residents at a Tuesday night meeting favored “economic recovery” and “social services” over “infrastructure” and “public revenue.”

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) brought four mason jars and rolls of pennies to the meeting to poll residents about their preferences for spending the $43 million the city will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Residents dole out their allocation of pennies.

Nieuwsma said Evanston’s decision on how to allocate those funds is “a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

One resident asked Nieuwsma whether the city could prioritize lending ARPA dollars to businesses that had not received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans under an earlier pandemic aid program.

He replied, “We’re making our own rules, so we could certainly take that under consideration,” and he assured another resident that the city could award ARPA funds in the form of business loans.

A different speaker argued for directing ARPA funds to the city’s reparations program to address racial inequality in Evanston and the pandemic’s toll on Black residents.

Landlord Tina Paden said she qualifies for housing assistance under the city’s reparations program. But, she doubts that the aid the program offers will reach its intended recipients. She said receiving a direct payment is better than ARPA dollars going to a reparations fund that she “may never see.”

The economic recovery jar ended up with the most pennies. Resident Peter Kelly emphasized that category’s importance, saying Evanston businesses and restaurants have not fully recovered from the pandemic.

Nieuwsma noted that the infrastructure jar held the fewest pennies, but one speaker spoke in favor of an infrastructure project — suggesting the need for all residents to have access to broadband internet service in the event of another pandemic.

Kirsten D’Aurelio advocated for more spending on social services to help frontline workers and to promote equity. “I think there are a lot of intersections here between equity principles and what happened with social services and who needs the most,” she said, “so I would like to see sort of that principle that goes for where the need is greatest, where is the most urgent need in our workforce for the future.”