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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

To address problems bubbling up from communities, some local governments are putting money directly into the hands of their citizens.

The big picture: Participatory budgeting (PB) is a tool that enables residents to determine how a portion of taxpayer dollars are spent. It's getting traction from California to North Carolina.

How it works:

  • Communities are allotted a portion of public dollars to spend as they see fit.
  • Volunteers identify pressing local needs — looking at sectors like transportation, housing, and education — and collaborate with public officials to draft viable budget proposals for how to use the allocated funds.
  • These proposals go to the entire community for a vote before they are enacted.

History lesson: The PB process can be traced back to a successful experiment in Brazil in 1989.

  • After a brutal military dictatorship, the city of Porto Alegre enacted PB to introduce transparent, responsive decision making and government accountability.

The impact: The World Bank and the United Nations Development Program have called participatory budgeting a best practice in democratic innovation, and Portugal is the first country to use it on the national scale.

What we're watching:

  • In Boston, residents ages 12-22 can participate and allocate $1 million per year.
  • Seattle recently expanded an existing program, and now anyone age 11 and older can participate in allocating $2 millon per year.
  • In New York City, over half of the city council allocated a portion of their discretionary funds to the process, which is open to residents as young as 11. Between 2012 and 2018, that resulted in more than $210 million dollars flowing into projects like new technology in libraries.

The bottom line: PB goes beyond creating a process for incorporating civic input into budgeting — it makes civic engagement possible for marginalized communities and involves young residents who aren't yet eligible to vote.

Hollie Russon Gilman is a fellow at New America's Political Reform Program, Georgetown's Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation, and Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs.

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Texas governor: "All hostages are out alive and safe"

SWAT team members deploy near the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Photo: Andy Jacobsohn/AFP via Getty Images

All four hostages have been safely released after a day-long standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said on Saturday night.

The latest: "Around 9 p.m., the HRT — hostage rescue team — breached the synagogue, they rescued the three [remaining] hostages, the suspect is deceased," said police chief Michael Miller of Colleyville, located roughly 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth. The other hostage had been released earlier Saturday.

The new normal: Google searches reveal America's COVID shopping habits

Data: The New Normal; Google Trends; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

As the pandemic enters its third year, some of America's COVID-era shopping habits — including strong demand for tequila and sweatpants — are here to stay.

Driving the news: Axios worked with Google Trends and the Schema Design firm to create The New Normal, which analyzes the products Americans have Googled since 2020. Items with a lasting increase in search interest help fill in the details of what our "new normal" looks like.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron — Deaths are climbing as cases skyrocket.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: You can start ordering free COVID tests Wednesday — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy — Biden deploying military medical staff to help overwhelmed hospitals.
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— Nurses across the U.S. strike against COVID working conditions— CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: Biden admin threatens to take back Arizona's COVID aid over anti-mask rules — Students across U.S. walkout of classes to demand safer COVID protocols — West Virginia governor feeling "extremely unwell" after positive test — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers.
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker