Emergency Management

Revisiting the CARES Act: What It Means for Local Governments

The CARES Act provided many state, local, and tribal governments additional funds at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill granted additional flexibility, helping these organizations acquire the tools and equipment necessary for responding to the public health crisis.

It’s been almost six months since these funds were doled out. And if your organization received those funds but didn’t spend them, it may be a good idea to think about doing so. As outlined by the US Department of the Treasury, any expenses covered by CARES Act funds must be incurred by December 30th, 2020.*

Lately, things are moving weirdly fast. We’re less than 3 months away from that December deadline. So if your organization does have leftover funds from the CARES Act to spend, how can your team best use those funds?

*This date could change as a result of new legislation and the volatile and uncertain nature of the pandemic.

Why the Assistance?

Broadly speaking, the CARES Act — which you can read more about here — released funds to state, local, and tribal governments to cover expenses related to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These funds were important for securing and establishing PPE stocks, kickstarting essential services and public health initiatives, and supporting local economies. Some bodies spent most of their funds early on to ensure the safety and security of their constituents; some areas, however, weren’t forced to spend as much, creating surpluses with an expiration date.

The pandemic is a long-term event, a fact that’s now lost on no one. Organizations of all kinds, not just governments and their associated public health departments, should be prepared for this reality. This was also a target for CARES Act funds, as creating the infrastructure and stores needed to continue responding to the pandemic was just as important as immediately addressing it.

Outlining CARES Act Expenses

The US Department of the Treasury has provided ample documentation regarding what expenses are qualified for coverage and/or reimbursement (as expenses incurred between March 1st and March 27th, 2020, can also be claimed).

Reading through the guidelines shows that the CARES Act can cover a wide range of expenses.

The Treasury’s documentation lists nonexclusive examples of eligible expenditures, which can be broken down into the following groups:

  • Medical COVID-19 related expenses for organizations, such as operating temporary facilities
  • Public health expenses, like those generated by quarantining individuals
  • Payroll expenses for employees whose duties serve a substantial role in mitigating and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Expenses related to observing and maintaining enacted public health prevention measures, like platforms that support teleworking and communication
  • Expenses for provisioning economic support, such as the provision of grants for small businesses that took losses due to COVID-19 related closures
  • “Any other COVID-19-related expenses reasonably necessary to the function of government that satisfy the Fund’s eligibility criteria”

Improving COVID-19 Response With CARES Funds

In addition to these more straightforward guidelines, the Treasury also created a FAQ style document to address perceived gray areas or common questions they imagine recipients will have.

Not only has it been 6 months since the CARES Act was enacted, but, at a large scale, it’s also been 6 months since the COVID-19 pandemic started affecting our communities. And, because this is a prolonged event, it’s safe to say it could be with us at least until early spring 2021, if not summer 2021.

Organizations trying to spend leftover CARES relief before the December 30th deadline should consider items that make improvements to existing COVID-19 response processes and operations. There’s been enough time for us to reflect on how we’ve all responded, and pinpoint any gaps or troubles that exist in our response infrastructures.

Those items could be the more obvious expenditures the pandemic calls for, like PPE. But if your organization is stocked and ready enough for the future, your team should start thinking of the utility of tools and platforms.

Tools and platforms can slot into numerous emergency management operations, including ones specific to pandemics and COVID-19, like contact tracing. They provide operational assistance and can create new efficiencies for a team. Even more specifically, tools and platforms can be stood up for specific uses, like case management, which would qualify these expenses under the Treasury’s guidelines.

Preparing for the Future

As we continue to move forward with the pandemic, we should also analyze how we’ve responded and ways to improve. Filling gaps in our operations will make handling this prolonged event easier, which the CARES Act funds we meant to do. Any governments with leftover funds should begin exploring this route, and see how best they can utilize their funds before the deadline in December.

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