The Next Round of Stimulus Funding
Congress has finally reached an agreement on a $900 billion pandemic relief stimulus bill! This bill passed both chambers of Congress earlier this week. The stimulus will provide funding to extend unemployment benefits, the eviction moratorium, federal student loan forbearance, and will provide a new round of stimulus checks. Notably, the 12/30/2020 deadline for the CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Fund has been extended for one year. This leaves significantly more time for state and local governments to leverage this existing direct federal assistance to purchase new equipment and have it installed or moved on-site before the deadline. Once the deadline passes, all Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars will go back to the U.S. Department of Treasury. In addition, the framework for this legislation contains substantial funding for state and local governments for specific public services, such as transportation, broadband, education, and public health.
What’s in the New Stimulus?
Which sectors will benefit most from this stimulus funding?
Coronavirus Relief Fund Extension
$150 billion was allocated in April 2020 for state and local governments to cover costs that were necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No new funds were allocated in the recent stimulus bill. However, while unused funds were to be returned to the U.S. Department of the Treasury on December 30th, 2020, the funds will remain available until December 31st, 2021.
Congress is expected to allocate $45 billion to the transportation sector, including money to support public transit systems to prevent furloughs, meet operating needs, and keep systems running. $14 billion is earmarked for transit improvements, $10 billion for state highways, and $2 billion for airports.
Similarly, the stimulus will include $5 billion for broadband services to overcome the digital divide and provide affordable access to broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic.
$82 billion will be allocated for education providers in both the K-12 and higher education arenas.
Lastly, the new stimulus package includes $22 billion in funding for states, territories, and tribes that can be used for testing and tracing, and an additional $9 billion for vaccine distribution. Pending official guidance from federal agencies, these funds may be able to support communications, assist with testing and tracing, provide public notice of vaccine availability, and support other healthcare expenses related to the pandemic.
How do Stimulus Funds Differ from Annual Funds?
Stimulus funding differs from annual federal and state funding in several important ways:
- First, stimulus funding is distributed with the expectation it will reach the necessary agencies or organizations quickly. While annual federal and state grant programs can take a few months to award their funding, the COVID-19 stimulus funding is intended to become available much quicker, often in a matter of weeks.
- Second, because these funds need to get out quickly, this means that organizations have to fill out far less paperwork to apply for these stimulus funds. Annual grant programs often require lengthy applications and can take weeks to months to put together. In the case of stimulus funds, leveraging these funds may require internal conversations with the necessary financial officers and the submission of a brief document that explains what you need the funds for and what your expenses will be. Learn more about how we can help here.
- And third, because stimulus legislation typically responds to poor economic conditions, Congress expects the funds to be used to keep citizens, businesses, and local governments afloat. In the case of pandemic aid funding, the funds are earmarked for relieving economic distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that all projects utilizing these stimulus dollars should tie their purchases back to COVID-19 and its effects.
How Granicus Can Help
Though these discussions are still on-going, and with further details to come, this funding offers exciting opportunities to leverage Granicus solutions in the on-going battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. State and local government agencies can potentially utilize these funding sources from the new stimulus bill to provide civic engagement solutions to help government agencies modernize their online services, web presence, and communication strategies. Here are a few potential use cases:
- Municipalities could use the funding for public transit systems to purchase software solutions optimized to send text message updates about route changes to public transit users in the community.
- Counties could employ the funding for broadband access to invest in necessary web solutions that enable citizens to view virtual town meetings, social media information, and public documents.
- Health departments could utilize testing and tracing funds to encourage citizens to get tested if exposed to COVID-19 through direct messaging and an informational website. Furthermore, these governments could use the same tools to help spread information concerning vaccine access and availability.
- Education departments, school districts, and institutes of higher education could implement a mass communication platform to update parents and children about potential COVID outbreaks at a school and how learning will continue using alternative instruction plans so everyone knows what to expect.
Getting “Grants Ready” for the Stimulus Funds
This new funding package is a promising sign for the grants landscape in 2021. It demonstrates that lawmakers are willing to negotiate and come to an agreement on spending necessary to relieve the distress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While we wait for further developments and finalized legislation, what can you do to begin preparing to take advantage of this future stimulus funding? We have a few recommendations for any organization seeking additional funding:
- Contact the relevant staff in your organization who you will need to get the project off the ground, whether it be the IT director, finance director, grants manager, and any other movers and shakers.
- Develop a statement of need that explains to the funders what your agency’s pain points are.
Prepare a description of the project so the funder can see how your agency’s project will mitigate the negative economic and health effects of COVID-19.
Plan out a budget of items you need to purchase with their associated cost and a short description of why the item is needed.
The Granicus Grants Support Program is available and ready to help state and local governments, healthcare agencies, K-12 schools, and colleges and universities take advantage of the additional funding provided by the new stimulus bill, with detailed tips and guidance on how to put together your proposal here. Whether your project is to modernize your agency’s online services, web presence, or communication strategies, the stimulus funding provides multiple angles to address these projects. Projects could include staff involved with transit, broadband, education, public health, and other departments based on the stream of funding chosen. The Grants Support Program includes a funding opportunity report detailing available grants based on your needs, consultative calls to strategize how to connect Granicus solutions with the outcomes desired by the funder, and proposal review, all at no cost and no obligation to you.
And remember to stay tuned for future stimulus funding developments. The stimulus bill currently being negotiated may only be a bridge to yet another stimulus deal that would include direct aid for state and local governments who will continue to struggle in the face of the pandemic. As more states start to voice their struggles to balance their budgets, members of Congress will be politically motivated to support another stimulus bill to relieve state and local governments in the jurisdictions they represent.