Outlining the Road to Recovery: How to Apply for the New COVID-19 Relief Funding with NACo’s Eryn Hurley
Among a myriad of challenges state and local governments faced during COVID-19, the appropriation of funding for our nation’s counties was a question without a clear answer. The CARES Act and its Coronavirus Relief Fund carried narrow restrictions that made navigation and compliance a frustrating endeavor for hundreds of counties around the country.
The new, flexible American Rescue Plan (ARP) and its Coronavirus State and Local Recovery Fund promise to give some relief to counties who struggled to comply or otherwise did not meet eligibility under the CARES Act. On this episode of 360 Justice, hosts Eli Gage and Karl Becker sit down with Eryn Hurley, Associate Legislative Director of Tax/Finance and Intergovernmental Affairs for the National Association of Counties (NACo), to answer some of the most pressing questions about county funding in the aftermath of COVID-19.
In this episode, we explore:
- A layman’s overview of the CARES Act, the new American Rescue Plan, and their individual recovery plans
- How the National Association of Counties (NACo), a bi-partisan organization that represents all the nation’s counties, can help your county get the long-term relief it needs
- How to receive and ensure compliance under the flexible Coronavirus State and Local Recovery Fund as part of the American Rescue Plan
- Trends in how counties are choosing to spend their funding regarding infrastructure, payrolls, and social safety nets
Have questions, comments, or want to talk more about this? Contact show host Eli Gage at email@example.com
Associate Legislative Director of Tax/Finance and Intergovernmental Affairs for the National Association of Counties
Eryn Hurley staffs NACo’s Finance, Pensions and Intergovernmental Affairs Policy Steering Committee. In this capacity, she works with county officials across the nation to set NACo’s policies on matters pertaining to the financial resources of counties, fiscal management, federal assistance, municipal borrowing, county revenues, federal budget, federal tax reform, elections, and Native American issues. She also staffed the Human Services and Education Policy Steering Committee and served as a Legislative Assistant. Additionally, Eryn serves as the staff liaison to NACo’s Immigration Reform Task Force and assists this group on issues related to immigration. Other responsibilities include staffing the National Association of County Intergovernmental Relations Officials (NACIRO).
Former Deputy Director of Corrections
Karl is an operations and management expert with over 30 years of experience in criminal justice system planning for federal, state, and local criminal justice agencies. Particular areas of expertise include program and operational performance assessment, cost-benefit analysis, and system master planning. Karl’s analyses have helped to frame key policy choices for decision-makers faced with growing detention populations and limited resources.
[00:00:00] Eli Gage: [00:00:00] Well, hello everybody. And welcome to the 360 justice podcast. I’m your host, Eli gage, and I’m joined by my cohost and friend subject matter expert, Karl Becker. Thanks Karl for being here today.
Karl Becker: [00:00:13] My pleasure.
Eli Gage: [00:00:15] So Karl, you were the deputy director of corrections in your former life. And prior to that, the division chief at the Bureau of budgets in Illinois,
Karl Becker: [00:00:26] That’s correct.
Eli Gage: [00:00:27] And so I thought Karl would be a great addition today, Erin, cause he’s been there and I think he’ll have some interesting questions to ask and I’m also joined today and we’re super excited to have Eryn Hurley with us.
Eryn is the Associate Legislative Director of Tax Finance and Inner Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Counties, otherwise known as NACo. So Erin, thank you for taking the time.
Eryn Hurley: Thank you for having me.
Eli Gage: That’s a cool title.
Eryn Hurley: It’s a long one. It’s a long one, a mouthful.
Eli Gage: So I was kind of reviewing the agenda and, the three of us have looked at it and Erin, you and I talked about it yesterday and as I was thinking about it, it broke down into kind of three separate parts, kind of the “who”, and I want to talk about NACo and what that organization’s mission is going forward. And then the “what”. Obviously, our listeners and our clients are very concerned about the “what”, everybody’s been talking about the funding that’s being appropriated. And then I guess maybe the “when” or the “how” if you will. So, your job, you kind of fell into the war time director of Tax Finance and Inner Governmental Affairs. Did you not?
Eryn Hurley: [00:01:47] Yeah, I, will say the last year and a half has definitely been a whirlwind, in the tax and finance world. And I guess, you know, the intergovernmental affairs world as well, too. So it’s been a wild ride, but [00:02:00] it’s definitely an exciting time, especially now with the recent passage of the American rescue plan as well.
Eli Gage: [00:02:06] And we’ll get back to that. But I understand in talking to you yesterday, something happened yesterday, maybe?
Eryn Hurley: [00:02:11] So on Monday, the U.S. Department of Treasury released their guidance on the American Rescue Plan’s State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. So that was very exciting. We’ve been waiting for that guidance since the American rescue plan was signed into law on March 11th. So, it’s 151 pages and words slowly but surely making our way through that guidance.
Eli Gage: Got it. So this podcast is timely.
Eryn Hurley: Very, very timely.
Eli Gage: Perfect. Well, let’s go. Let’s talk about NACo. We’ve known NACo. I’ve known NACo for 30 years. I mean, it’s an all encompassing organization. Obviously they get involved in, I know criminal justice is our expertise. They have a division, they have the large County share or the large County jail network.
Eli Gage: [00:02:58] There’s a lot of [00:03:00] tentacles within NACo. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what NACo is.
Eryn Hurley: Yeah. So, you know, in a nutshell, NACo is a bipartisan organization that represents our nations 3069 County governments. Our mission here is to strengthen the nation’s counties and ultimately really help achieve healthy, safe, and vibrant counties across the country.
So, in doing that, we work with all County elected officials and County employees across the country, which is an incredible experience. You learn something new every day. As an organization, we are split up into a couple of different departments, for this podcast, especially when we’re talking about, you know, criminal justice efforts and other efforts that NACo’s involved in, we have our government affairs team, which is the team that I serve on, We have our County futures lab team, as well, that really work hand in hand on a lot of NACo’s priorities every single [00:04:00] year. The government affairs team, we advocate on behalf of counties and work with our federal partners to develop policies that may impact counties on the local level once they are passed.
So really trying to bring that County voice to the table as those new laws, legislation regulation, all of those are being developed. And then on the flip side as well, too, in a way to, bring our members together, at the table with one another, again, all across the country, create really good flows of communication between members and NACo staff ourselves.
Within the counties futures lab, what we do is we highlight county best practices. That’s where a lot of our grant and foundation work is actually held. So, in that sense, you know, we highlight what counties are doing, whether it be around early childhood development or our Stepping Up initiative, which works to reduce recidivism for individuals with substance use disorders or other efforts regarding economic mobility. [00:05:00]
So it’s kind of a, you know, couple prong approach when we’re talking about NACo as an organization to both advocate on behalf of counties at the local level, but also kind of uplift some of those best practices that are, you know, being implemented on the ground, as well, and sharing among our membership too.
Karl Becker: That’s gotta be a challenging mission, just given the diversity of counties. I mean, you’re on the gamut from LA County with, you know, millions of people to, you know, counties with, you know, five or 600 people in different, just such different challenges in such different needs.
Eryn Hurley: Karl, it is, it definitely is.
And you know, one of the ways that we address that is so, within NACo, we have specifically, you know, speaking on the government affairs team, we have what we refer to as policy steering committees. So when we talk about, you know, my title that I handle finance pensions and intergovernmental affairs, that portfolio is actually, you know, [00:06:00] assigned to a steering committee, the finance pensions and intergovernmental affairs steering committee that is made up of county elected officials, county employees, all across the country. So that steering committee is actually only one of 10 steering committees on the government affairs team.
So we have our justice and public safety steering committee, our health steering committee, human services and education, and it goes on. So we’re really covering all domestic policy. Outside of the steering committees, touching on your point about, you know, how do you address the issues being faced by urban counties and rural counties?
We also have our large urban County caucus. So those members that serve on that caucus, they represent counties that have populations of 500,000 and above. And then we also have our rural action caucus. So those members are representing counties that have populations of 50,000 and below. So those caucuses come together to discuss issues that are being faced within their respective communities.
So for [00:07:00] example, the rural action caucus, one of the most common discussions that they have is around, you know, access to broadband. We know that that’s a huge issue in rural communities and the lack of connectivity in those communities. So,those groups are able to get together to discuss, you know, priorities, concerns.
So again, I’m really trying to, you know, bring all of those voices, even though very, very diverse to the table when we are talking about all these different federal policies and you know, topics that are being discussed, today.
Eli Gage: I was going to ask who would be the member of NACo? Would it be the actual County or would it be individuals?
Eryn Hurley: So it is the actual County is the member. And then the County elected officials, or, you know, again, the County employees, or even the government affairs staff for those counties, they would be all part of [00:08:00] NACo. But the County itself is the member.
Eli Gage: Got it.
Karl Becker: So you’re a resource for these counties, uh, on a lot of different levels. So for a smaller County, which doesn’t have a lot of experience working with federal grant programs, they hear like something like the ARP act comes out and they know there’s money available. They would come to you and say, well, how do we access? What are the rules? And how can you assist us in putting our application together? Exactly. So, that’s a great example. So once the ARP was signed into law, of course, that was $1.9 trillion.
So, a lot of money in that, right? Outside of the state local fiscal recovery fund, which we can touch on a little bit later, but there was a lot of other funding streams, right? That was included in that. So, what NACo did in addition to putting out our regular analysis that we do for all sorts of larger legislative packages, we created an interactive tool on our webpage where counties can actually go [00:09:00] in and click on, you know, various topics.
So, it could be assistance to direct assistance to individuals. They can click on that and it actually goes into a dropdown of exactly what types of programs and services were included in the American Rescue Plan and if counties are eligible to receive those funds. So, it’s a really great way for counties to become more familiar with, you know, one, what was actually included in the American rescue plan, but then two, also, is their County eligible to receive these funds and how do they do it? And then, you know, we would link to the respective federal agency website and the portal for the County to send in their application and, you know, fill out a grant.
Eli Gage: My recollection is, and I’ve been to NACo, I’ve been to your offices that we talked about the other day. You guys invested in that technology years ago, this is nothing new. This is not a direct result of the Coronavirus you’ve been kind of, you’ve had a very robust web presence for [00:10:00] quite some time. Right?
Eryn Hurley: We have, but, you know, I will say over the last year we definitely have had to, you know, reshape the ways that we have communicated with our members. You know, some of our products weren’t all that much web based, I will say, you know, we would provide a lot of printouts, et cetera, you know, PDFs for our members.
But now we’re trying to move away from that and make our website itself much more interactive. You know, beyond just, you know, the, the web resources or website resources, what we’ve had to do with the pandemic is, you know, we would be holding in-person conferences. Right? Altogether. We typically have our legislative conference in Washington, DC.
Every single year at the end of February, beginning of March, where we have about 2000 of NACo’s members come into Washington, DC, we hold Capitol Hill briefings. We have administration speakers come in. You know, it goes for seven days that [00:11:00] totally had to be transitioned to a virtual setting.
And so one of the things that we had to really think about there is, okay, you know, if our members can not come to Washington DC to get that, you know, Washington DC experience, how do we bring it to them, to their living rooms or, you know, wherever they are watching the meeting. So, so that was something that we definitely had to restructure and think very, you know, creatively about how we wanted to make sure that we were continuing to engage members. Of course, that was a year into the pandemic too. So, you know, I think folks were getting a little bit tired of the virtual world. So, that, you know, we’ve had to definitely transition the ways that we do engage with members throughout the last year as well, too.
Eli Gage: So will the NACo conference take place this year?
Eryn Hurley: So, the legislative conference did not take place in person. We did hold that virtually and that actually spanned over an entire month rather than that week. So, we still had all of our, you know, committee business meetings and our [00:12:00] workshops.
We had general sessions. We brought in federal agency speakers. We set up what we refer to as a federal agency happy hours where their intergovernmental affairs staff could speak in different breakout rooms with our members in a more informal setting. But we are having our annual conference, July 9th to the 12th. Originally was supposed to be in Travis County, Texas, Austin but we have moved it to Prince George’s County, Maryland, and we are doing a hybrid conference where it’ll be a mixture of in-person and virtual.
Karl Becker: Transitioning back to normal life.
Eryn Hurley: Yes, exactly. Yeah.
Eli Gage: So, Erin, let’s talk about the “what” cause all of our listeners and all of our clients were getting asked a million questions and Karl Becker we’ve kind of tasked at CGL with kind of leading that effort and trying to, to keep abreast of what’s going on because we get these questions every day, you know, how do I get some of this money for lack of a better term.
So, I’m going to put it in real layman’s Virginia [00:13:00] terms here real quick. The way I looked at it you’ve got the Cares Act, the Coronavirus Relief Fund, the ARP, which is the American Rescue Plan, and then the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. Is that right?
Eryn Hurley: So, yes, so the Coronavirus Relief Fund is part of the Cares Act. And then the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund is part of the American Rescue Plan.
Eli Gage: Got it. So, tell us all about it.
Eryn Hurley: Yeah. Well, before I begin, I do want to say Karl, then, I’m sorry that you are spearheading it. I feel your pain because I can only imagine if you’re getting the same amount of questions that we all have been receiving for the past couple months now, I sympathize with you.
Karl Becker: In a former life, I did a fair amount of grant applications with the federal government and they were always torturous and Byzantine and difficult to [00:14:00] decipher. So, I’m hoping things have gotten easier for counties and local governments as they approach these, these type of programs. I’m interested in hearing what these look like now.
Eryn Hurley: Yeah, definitely. So, we can kind of backtrack and we’ll talk about, we’ll start with the Cares Act. That’s a good place to start.
So. The Cares Act. It was, you know, just a couple months after you know, the declaration of the public health crisis, it was passed back in late March of 2020. Part of the Cares Act, so that was the, you know, one of the largest packages that was never passed by Congress, part of the Cares Act was the Coronavirus Relief Fund and the Coronavirus Relief Fund was a new program that allocated $150 billion in aid to help State’s local and tribal governments and territories pretty much respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This, you know, at that time, that relief was very, very critical in the [00:15:00] preliminary response to COVID-19, but, you know, parts of it and some of the restrictions around the Coronavirus Relief Fund or CRF is what we call it, didn’t really provide the opportunity to implement longer term recovery responses.
Karl Becker: So, it was narrowly defined or more narrowly defined?
Eryn Hurley: Exactly. Exactly. So, and, you know, beyond some of the restrictions which I’ll talk about in one second, but beyond some of the restrictions that were actually included in the Department of Treasury’s guidance regarding the CRF, there were also some parameters that were actually included in the legislative texts of the Cares Act regarding the CRF.
So, for example, under the CRF, only counties that had populations of 500,000 residents and above were able to receive direct allocations from the Department of Treasury. So, what that means is actually only 5% of the nation’s counties, [00:16:00] so 120 counties, actually met that threshold and therefore were eligible to receive direct payments from the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Karl Becker: So, the other counties they’d have to go through their state governments then?
Eryn Hurley: Exactly, exactly. And so, they had to receive sub allocations from their state. States themselves had to set up a whole entire new process of how exactly they wanted to sub allocate to those smaller counties. Did they want to do, you know, one lump sum to the smaller counties? Did they want to do it through a reimbursement process? How much were they going to allocate or take out of a portion of their state fund and provide to the smaller counties? So, so 95% of the nation’s counties had to receive sub allocation. So, we’re not receiving those funds, you know, as immediately as those, you know, 5% of counties received the CRF dollars.
Beyond the population threshold, also those Cares Act CRF dollars, they were not allowed to be used to replace lost revenue [00:17:00] as a result of the pandemic. So that, that was really huge in the fact that counties could not use that money to replace lost revenue.
Before the Cares Act, or before and during, you know, in the beginning stages, when the Cares Act was signed into law, NACo had conducted a study about the fiscal impact that COVID-19 has had on counties and from our responses and research we came to a figure of, that county’s experienced and would continue to experience through fiscal year 2021, a budgetary impact of $202 billion. So, a significant portion of that was because of lost revenue and then the other portion of that was due to increased expenditures to address and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.
So again, that was really one of the largest concerns that we had when it came to the restrictions and use of funding for the CRF. And then finally, as well too, the CRF was associated with a [00:18:00] deadline. It has since been extended by a year, but the original deadline was December 30th of 2020. And so, the Cares Act was signed into law late March of 2020.
So that’s a pretty tight timeline to spend those dollars, especially when the guidance that, you know, Treasury did release at the time, it was very much rolling guidance if you will. So, you know, I think there were maybe eight iterations of guidance around the eligible and ineligible uses of those dollars.
So, in a sense, you know, some County governments were holding off on spending their dollars because they didn’t want to be, you know, they wanted to make sure that they were complying with the law. So that’s all to say you know, under, under the Cares Act and Treasury’s guidance, the recipients, so counties, were required to spend, actually spend all of this CRF dollars by that December 30th deadline.
Karl Becker: That would be pretty challenging. I mean, I know [00:19:00] how County governments work and it just takes a while to get, you know, projects underway and get systems for tracking money underway way. So, that must’ve been a great challenge for many of your members.
Eryn Hurley: Exactly. And I mean, you know, this is, again, it was a totally new program, a totally new fund that counties had to really navigate and actually develop these plans and implement them in real time, and in addition, to track how they were spending all of those dollars. So, so, it was, you know, it was a lot, I mean, counties did a really incredible job in standing up these new programs, allocating funds towards an array of services that really works to support residents and communities. But you know, all in all, it was difficult to sometimes get the money out the door again, because they, counties did not want to in any way, shape or form. You know, be caught in a bind and, you know, say [00:20:00] that they weren’t compliant with Treasury’s guidance.
So, so it was a pretty tight deadline, and, you know, I, I think the deadline also made it, you know, counties restricted in their ability to, again, invest funds in longer-term projects. So, you know, if they wanted to expand a wing of their jail, you know, because there were, uh, you know, an overflow of inmates then, you couldn’t really start that project because you needed to spend those dollars by that date. And that deadline actually didn’t end up getting extended until December 30th of 2020 when the yearend spending deal was passed. So, that was, you know, three, three days before and counties really were just trying to spend their money as fast as they possibly could up until that deadline and, and kind of going back to the sub allocation part for the smaller counties, some counties, those smaller counties didn’t even receive money until August, even some, September, and States actually were, [00:21:00] imposed an earlier deadline on the counties that they sub allocated to of earlier in December so that they could fulfill the reporting requirements that the treasury came out with.So again, just, it was difficult.
Karl Becker: So, if they don’t meet the deadline, do they just forfeit the remaining funds they haven’t spent?
Eryn Hurley: Exactly. Yes.
Eli Gage: You said the Cares Act was 200 billion.
Eryn Hurley: The Coronavirus Relief Fund was 150 billion, and then the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which was the one that was authorized under the American Rescue Plan, that’s 362 billion. That’s the, that’s the most recent one. When treasury came out with that guidance on Monday.
Eli Gage: A lot of money.
Eryn Hurley: A lot of money. Yeah.
Eli Gage: Since you’re sitting right there in Washington, where does that money come from?
Eryn Hurley: Well, you know, I mean, in terms of where the money comes from it’s Congress passes it and, I think, you [00:22:00] know, it’s a much longer process, right? I mean, it’s going to contribute somewhat to the deficit.
You know, there wasn’t exactly, you know, quote, unquote, “pay fors” for this, you know, not similar to, you know, like the American Jobs Plan that just came out, that, you know, in, in coordination with the American Jobs Plan, the Biden Harris Administration’s Tax Plan was also released on the same day or maybe a couple of days after.
That outlines how the American Jobs Plan will be paid for over the next 10 years. So, the American Rescue Plan, wasn’t exactly like accompanied with, you know, some sort of plan like that.
Eli Gage: Karl, and I are too old to worry about it. Eryn, you’re going to inherit this.
Karl Becker: This is kind of a different beast too, cause it’s coming out of Treasury, right? I think most grant programs that, you know, counties are familiar with, they come out of HUD, or Justice, or Homeland security, Treasury’s kind of a different animal for these counties to work with, isn’t it? [00:23:00]
Eryn Hurley: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it was. You know, and I mean, with the Cares Act and the CRF, it definitely was a little bit of a new experience and just how that relationship looked you know, with the State and Local Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Fund, Treasury has done a really, really incredible job at developing and implementing the program, coming out with that guidance, establishing a new portal communicating what is really needed from counties, as well. So, it’s been, it’s been a good process thus far but it is definitely new in general that, you know, what has been happening or, yeah, over the last year.
Karl Becker: Any idea how much of the money has actually been spent so far under the Cares Act?
Eryn Hurley: Ooh, that is a good question. I believe, I’m not, I feel like in terms of at least the County money that was spent, but this was all the way back in I think [00:24:00] February or January when we last saw, I think it was something around 89% had already been spent and that’s for the Cares Act, Coronavirus Relief Fund money. I’m pretty sure that’s what our research found.
Karl Becker: So, counties are doing a pretty good job of getting the money out the door, then?
Eryn Hurley: Yeah. They really, really did a good job. You know, even though I mentioned that it was a totally new program and counties had to stand up each of their own, we refer to them as CRF plans, they were so innovative and really able to, you know, allocate the funds as quickly as possible. To, again, as I mentioned, an array of services, whether it’s towards housing and rental assistance or small business and non-profits support, they were able to, you know, some counties used it towards broadband expansion, workforce training.
So really, again, all over the place, another area that we saw, a lot of counties using the funds were to cover payroll costs for public health and public safety employees, who [00:25:00] of course, are on the front lines in, in, you know, fighting COVID. So again, really all over the board. Also saw them investing a lot actually into, you know, social safety net services, whether it be you know, supporting childcare providers, nutrition assistance, so again very incredible great efficient plans that were developed.
Eli Gage: And I want to come back to that point cause you and I talked about this yesterday, but remind me again of deadlines as they stand right now.
Eryn Hurley: So, as they stand right now, so, regarding the Cares Act, the Coronavirus Relief Fund under the Cares Act, that deadline was moved to December 31st of 2021.
And then now the kind of the newer deadline is regarding the American Rescue Plans that Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund that deadline is December 31st of 2024. But, what’s [00:26:00] interesting, and actually, you know, very helpful is that deadline for the fiscal recovery fund, it is December 31st of 2024, but recipients only have to obligate funds by 2024. They actually have until 2026 to perform or, you know, spend the money.
Karl Becker: Which should open the door to a lot of infrastructure and capital type of projects that really couldn’t be funded under the Cares Act.
Eryn Hurley: Exactly exactly it is, it’s extremely helpful for those longer term infrastructure projects.
Eli Gage: Okay cause that was going to be a question that I had, you mentioned earlier, you know, adding a new wing to an overcrowded jail. So. under the Fiscal Recovery Fund, that’s actually possible now.
Eryn Hurley: Exactly. Yep. And yes that is possible. And there are actually you know, other like very much so like outlined eligible uses and ineligible [00:27:00] uses under the, under the Recovery Fund and capital investment projects specifically that, you know, help mitigate COVID-19.
That’s also part of one of the eligible expenses, but that’s all to say, yes, the deadline and the flexibility regarding the deadline is extremely, extremely helpful.
Karl Becker: So, in that example, of the crowded jail I mean, a County could pursue a project in that vein, but it has to be couched in terms of a response to mitigating the impact of potential COVID pandemic or some type of disease outbreak or a public health angle. Is that fair to say?
Eryn Hurley: Yes. So, you know, they’re there. So, this is actually, so there are, this is also another interesting part of the Recovery Fund. So they’re, they’re kind of two, there are two things that I want to mention here. So, regarding like the general recovery [00:28:00] fund, you know, yes, it needs to be related back to COVID.
So, specifically from the guidance, when, you know, the guidance that came out, they kind of broadened the, the four categories that were included in the actual legislative texts of the American Rescue Plan. So, one of them now is supporting the public health response. Within that, you know, bucket, we’ll say, you can use funds towards capital investments in public facilities to meet pandemic operational needs. So that’s one of the eligible expenses. But when we’re talking about the general recovery funds, they do need to be tied back to, you know, COVID. But then, as part of the recovery fund, funds can also be used to replace lost revenue. So, their formulas for how a County or state locality, any recipient of the recovery fund, how they can actually calculate their lost revenue.
[00:29:00] Pretty much they’re given two options to do so, but, after doing the, conducting those calculations, however much funding, you know, you, you come to and then allocate the recovery fund towards that money. You can use that funding towards government services. And then government services are defined by maintenance of infrastructure, including roads, bridges, cyber security, services or programs related to public health, public safety, jails, firefighters. So, the use of those specific funds regarding loss revenue, like, or the replacement of lost revenue are extremely broad outside of the norm, the normal quote recovery funds. I know that that’s a little bit confusing, but, but think of it in, in, in two sort of pots, almost, even though it’s the same, but they’re different parameters around being able to use the dollars. [00:30:00]
Karl Becker: So, some governments have to be kind of cognizant of how they make their arguments. I mean, how they make their case for whatever project they want to pursue. Be it COVID related, be it loss of revenue, be it general services and government operations. They have a story to tell and they got to choose which one makes the best case for them.
Eryn Hurley: Yeah. They, they do have to relate it back to COVID. Yes.
Eli Gage: So, XYZ County and I want to apply for all of this are, do these guys, and this is maybe a better question for Karl, given that you work with these counties every day, what do you do, Karl? What do you, where do you start?
Karl Becker: Call NACo? Right?
Eryn Hurley: So, I can speak specifically to the American Rescue Plan and what we’re doing right now since this is, this has been, you know, kind of my life since Monday at [00:31:00] 1:15, when Treasury dropped the guidance. So, when Treasury came out with the guidance, they also opened up their portal for counties to certify their funds. Ahead of actually opening up the portal, treasury came out with what we’ll call certification guidance saying, hey, you know, if you’re a recipient of the Fiscal Recovery Fund, make sure that you have a valid DUNS number, SAM registration, you’ve gathered all sorta sort of your, you know, important financial documents. So, your banking information, routing number, et cetera.
Karl Becker: To back up a little bit, the amount of money the County is eligible for, that’s determined by some type of formula or allocation? This isn’t a competitive process. In other words, there’s a certain amount of money each County is eligible for?
Eryn Hurley: Exactly. Exactly. And that, that is a long formula that we like, when the House and Senate were working on their respective bills, that was something, the numbers that NACo actually crunched [00:32:00] before treasury released their official numbers.
So that is a long formula. And, but yes, and there are actually different formulas that were used between County governments and then non-County municipalities, as well, too. But yes, it was, it was formula based, not competitive.
Karl Becker: So, the important point there is there’s a set amount of money available to each County and they just need to certify their eligibility to the Treasury to determine what that number is.
Eryn Hurley: Exactly. Exactly, under the American Rescue Plan for this recovery fund, in contrast to the Cares Act to the Coronavirus Relief Fund, every single County, no matter what the population size, is eligible to receive direct, a direct allocation from the U.S. Department of Treasury. So, all 3,069 counties are eligible to receive direct payments, no sub allocations through a state, now.
So that’s also very, that is an incredible [00:33:00] part of the American Rescue Plan that counties were able to receive those direct funds. So now that the portal is open for Treasury, counties, have the option to request funds. So what NACo has been doing is, you know, Pretty much inundating our members with emails and we held a national membership call yesterday with all of our members telling them exactly step-by-step what they need to do, what sort of platform Treasury is using, in order for folks to certify the funds and receive the dollars. So really, if you were a County and you’re eligible, you want to make sure that you have a valid DUNS number, SAM registration, all of your financial information, you go on Department of Treasury’s website on their landing page for the fiscal recovery fund.
They have a button that says request funds. You hit that button. Then you’re taken to a portal it’s [00:34:00] called id.me. And you just go through a process of, you know, providing some information. And then at that point you are registered to receive the funds. And then in terms of a timeline, it takes about four or five days for Treasury to process that, and then your County will receive the money.
Karl Becker: So how much documentation is required to actually outline the purposes for the money or the projects the County wants to pursue?
Eryn Hurley: That is another very good question. So, when Treasury released their guidance, so, of course, you know, it included information about eligible and ineligible uses, you know, very, very helpful, but it also did include some preliminary information regarding reporting requirements.
So, to your point about, you know, our County is going to be required to provide a plan. In contrast to the Coronavirus Relief Fund, counties will be required to submit an annual [00:35:00] recovery plan and a performance report, which includes descriptions of projects, funded and information on performance indicators and objectives of each award.
So, the initial recovery plan will cover any sort of activity or spending from the date the County actually receives the funds until July 31st of 2021. And so those recovery plans are due by August 31st of 2021. So, this is the intention behind the recovery plan is so that It’s a kind of like a transparent process so that, you know, Treasury and the other federal agencies that are overseeing the program as well, too, they are able to understand what kind of impact or intention behind the county’s recovery plan, what the intention behind it is. I will say that Treasury is going to release more information on [00:36:00] exactly, you know, what the, what those plans look like. So, but for right now, that is a little bit different than what, how the CRF reporting requirements were set up.
Karl Becker: How much does Treasury actually work with the County, say I’m Gallatin County and I submit a plan for a project which doesn’t quite meet their muster. Do they then work with the County to improve their application or get them in a better shape for being eligible for funding?
Eryn Hurley: So, since we are in the beginning stages and you know, counties have not exactly created their plans yet, or really have, you know, succinct ideas of how they are allocating their funds, they have in part but, you know, maybe not to that certain extent quite yet, so, we haven’t had that sort of understanding of interaction between members and Treasury.
I will say though what has been really, really great and a really good step to demonstrate the value of an inter-governmental partnership and communication between federal and state and [00:37:00] local is that Treasury about a month or so ago, they announced that they were standing up an office, it’s office of recovery programs I believe, an office that specifically is focusing on administering the COVID-19 relief programs. So namely that the fiscal recovery fund, but they also want it to serve as a resource and support for these recipients, especially, you know, counties. So, they’ve created this new office, they have created almost like a, you know, an email listserv where counties can actually submit questions in every kind of step of the process.
So, if you have a general question, you send your email to one email address. If you have one specifically about the portal, you’ll say they send it there. So, I think as we see, you know, funds being administered, plans really start to, you know, bolster up and, you know, be implemented, then we’ll have a better idea of really what that communication looks [00:38:00] like, but, you know, creating that, that, you know, independent office within Treasury in that way is a really, really helpful, just even beginning step, to see what that relationship and communication will look like in the years ahead.
Karl Becker: Well, that sounds encouraging. I think, you know, a lot of smaller counties are going to feel intimidated even with the assistance and NACo just because it’s a new process and working with Treasury and they don’t have a lot of experience in working with grants or the documentation or the reporting requirements. Are these funds available to counties to charge some of this overhead or some of this expense they’re going to incur and just even applying for these grants and reporting on the progress of the projects?
Eryn Hurley: Yes. So, so I will say that included in the guidance that was released, that counties can actually charge some of those funds to [00:39:00] administrative costs, administrative costs of overseeing, helping implement the program. So again, very, very helpful especially for those smaller counties, completely new program, new process.
So, you can use those funds to cover those additional payroll expenses. Right. We are trying to receive some additional clarification from Treasury about whether it would be eligible to actually hire an outside consultant to, you know, assist the County, which we did see a lot under the Coronavirus Relief Fund that counties did bring in third-party consultants to help them develop these plans, track the funds.
Again, it’s, it’s a completely a full-time job. If not more. So, we are trying to receive additional clarification from Treasury on that point because that was allowable under the Coronavirus Relief Fund to, to cover those, you know, third-party consultant expenses.
Karl Becker: Yeah, you can see where that could be really helpful to some of these smaller counties that just don’t have the level of sophistication in dealing with these federal grant programs.
Eryn Hurley: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Eli Gage: And that was kind of my point, [00:40:00] Karl, you know, and I was thinking the same thing as these smaller counties, you know, it’s gotta be overwhelming for them and you’ve answered my question quite well, is that these third party consultants coming in and helping, because a lot of times they need that help and that’s interesting.
Eryn Hurley: Yeah. Again, in part, again, you know, with, with the smaller counties, it is completely new. For example, that’s one of the things that NACo tried to really help out with, even before the portal was open. We acknowledged the fact that maybe smaller counties don’t have a DUNS number or a SAM registration, Right. You know, because they haven’t received funds from the federal government before. And so we tried to help out through many, many different membership calls, you know, with folks to walk them through that process. You know, if you, this is what a DUNS number is. If you don’t have a DUNS number, this is the number that you call.
If you don’t have a SAM registration, these are the steps that you do in order to, you [00:41:00] know, get an active SAM registration. So, that is something that we’re very cognizant of and are really trying to help support our members as, as best as we can through that process, even in the beginning stages.
And then of course well into when they actually start investing funds and that’s when NACo’s going to try to, you know, we’ll transition over into those, that kind of like sharing best practices that I mentioned that is like another very key part of NACo where we’ll bring together local leaders that, you know, represent those smaller rural counties and, you know, they can talk about how they are, you know, investing that money. And some of those, you know, examples and best practices can be taken back home.
Karl Becker: Well, this sounds like, particularly with the reporting requirements, this is going to be more complicated than, than the Cares Act. If they have to define performance objectives and they’ve got to measure actual progress toward those objectives and collect data to demonstrate that they’re actually making progress. So, it’s a whole different deal in terms of, uh, it’s not just getting the money and spending it and showing how you spend it. [00:42:00] You got to show how it relates to your plan and what you’ve actually achieved.
Eryn Hurley: Yeah. And I actually should have mentioned this from the get-go that regarding at least the plans that we’re talking about here, so, for those kind of more in-depth performance plans, local governments that have less than 250,000 residents are not required to develop a recovery performance plan or report. So that is only for counties with populations above 250,000 that, that do have to, you know, do have to do that. And, but in terms of reporting requirements, quarterly reports, an interim report that’s due August 31st, all recipients will have to report on how those funds are being used.
Eli Gage: That’s really helpful. And Eryn is, I think I’ve mentioned to you, Karl, has provided us with a bunch of resources that we’ll try to provide on the outreach emails regarding the podcast. So, we’ll try to help [00:43:00] share this as best we can. I can’t imagine what you dream about at night, Eryn, this fund to fund, to fund, I mean, it’s a lot.
Eryn Hurley: It’s a lot, it’s a lot of information. You really have to, buckle down and read through it. But again, for me, it’s all very interesting and, you know, the pandemic, of course has been very difficult on everyone, but at this point with, you know, the American Rescue Plan and everything that’s happening, it is a very exciting, exciting time. So, that keeps me motivated. That definitely does keep me motivated, but, yeah, it’s a beast.
Eli Gage: It’s a beast. Well, we’ll try to get the word out as best we can. Karl, is there anything that you can think of that you’ve got question, Eryn, you’re probably going to be hearing from Karl since we’ve tasked him with everything.
Karl Becker: There’s not enough time to answer all my questions, so. It, it certainly [00:44:00] seems like the American Rescue Plan was designed to address some of the shortfalls in the Cares Act and make this a more seamless process for a local government to get the funding that they need. That said, are there any pitfalls that you see in the program currently that didn’t perhaps address some of the earlier problems in the program or areas that counties should actually kind of be leery of or concerned about as they, as they enter into this and start applying for funds?
Eryn Hurley: You know, caveat, I have not finished all 151 pages, so, you know, at this point I think what the guidance has outlined is incredibly flexible, broad, really helps address many, many of the detrimental impacts and issues that were either brought on as a result of COVID-19 or highlighted because of COVID-19. I think, you know, all in all there, [00:45:00] all I would have to say is that there could just be some like additional clarifying questions regarding the guidance. So, off the top of my head, can these funds be placed into an interest bearing account? You know, that was something that the Cares Act Coronavirus Relief Fund folks could do, but, you know, beyond, you know, really obvious sort of concerns at this point? No, but I think as we continue to read and receive questions from our members we’ll be able to have better insight as to if there are certain restrictions that we were unaware of because you know, ultimately our members are the experts, right? And so they have a better understanding of what these funds could be used for.
So that’s all to say again, at this point, we just think that Treasury did a fantastic job in developing the guidance and, you know, rolling it out and everything. So, so we really appreciate the flexibility through the recovery fund.
Eli Gage: Great. Well, Eryn, [00:46:00] thank you so much. I’m sure you’re going to be hearing from a lot of people in the next year. You’ve got your, you’ve got your work cut out for you. I’m so happy that we found you because we were scratching our head as to where we go.
Karl Becker: That’s right.
Eli Gage: Right, Karl?
Karl Becker: That’s absolutely right.
Eli Gage: So, thank you for taking the time today. We really appreciate it. Thanks again for your time.
Eryn Hurley: No, thank you. Thank you so much. It was great meeting you both and appreciate you inviting me.
Eli Gage: Karl Becker. Take the rest of the day off.
Karl Becker: Thank you, sir. All right. Thanks guys.
Eryn Hurley: Take care. Thank you. Bye-bye well, thanks everyone.
Eli Gage: That was a super helpful information. I know for our industry, it’s going to be it’ll help a lot of projects stay on track and that’s a real important right now. So, thanks for listening to our podcast today. You can find this and other episodes on the standard podcasts platforms, Apple podcast, Google [00:47:00] podcast, Stitcher, and Spotify, or you can visit CGLcompanies.com/podcast.
If you have an idea for future guests, certainly reach out to me or on our website as an email that you can reach out and suggest future guests of, you know, kind of what’s top of mind for you guys, and we’ll see if we can help figure it out. So again, thanks everybody for listening. Have a good day.
National Association of Counties (NACo) State and Local Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Funds Information and Resources Hub
U.S. Treasury State and Local Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Fund Request Portal as part of the American Rescue Plan Act
Counties and COVID-19: Positioning America for Recovery
Comprehensive Analysis of COVID-19’s Impact On County Finances and Implications for the U.S. Economy
State and Local Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Funds Resource Hub