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How to Manage the Influx of COVID-19 Grants

State and local governments like Montana and Wayne County, Michigan have received millions of dollars in federal aid from the American Rescue Plan (ARPA) and the CARES Act. The scale of funds they must now manage has created fresh opportunities for creative thinking and newfangled challenges.

“If you have a good technological ecosystem, and a staff that understands it, you can stay ahead of the game,” said Hughey Newsome, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for Wayne County, Michigan. Newsome and other panelists spoke at GovLoop’s online training Tuesday.

Some things are the same – such as “the usual flux” where grantors and grantees dance to coordinate timelines for receiving and spending resources, said Sarah R. Sadowski, Director of the Montana Governor’s Office of Community Service (OCS).

The difference is the increased volume, Sadowski noted. State and local agencies are hustling to handle the influx. Over half of Wayne County’s general fund is from federal COVID-19 relief. And more than three-fourths of respondents in a poll during the training said they saw an increase in grant activity over the last year.

To manage the surged scale of grant money, the right technology and talent are key.

Technological ecosystem

Grants management is a “workflow puzzle” to Tom Yeatts, Global Head of State, Local and Regional Government Solutions at ServiceNow, a software solutions provider.

Staff have relied on email, phone and spreadsheets too heavily to piece together a puzzle that’s as complex as government grants.

“There are so many opportunities to use tech to do more with less,” Yeatts said. “Because ARPA and CARES Act funding is on top of the normal grants lifecycle you’re already going through.”

If employees can use the same platform, particularly with automation capabilities that can self-document processes, stakeholders can get on the same page more efficiently. And, they can tackle the No. 1 priority faster: the impact of the dollars on the communities they serve.

Skilled staff

Nothing is as important as having the right talent to deliver the funding’s impact. Especially when plans get a little more complicated than expected, skilled staff are critical to work through the challenges.

Newsome recalled managing a federally funded infrastructure project as Flint, Michigan’s former CFO. “There were a lot of hard lessons learned,” Newsome said, one of them being how critical understanding programmatic context is for finance staff.

“Oftentimes when I look at grants management, there are two sides: the financial compliance side, and then people responsible for program delivery. At the end of the day, you’re not getting a grant just to receive money…there are people who have to actually deliver the program,” Newsome said. “Understanding and having experience with program delivery is so important.”

So is having an understanding and responsibility to public trust. Having recently rebuilt a new team, Sadowski emphasized how critical it is to hire for the fundamentals: attitude, and “the idea that the dollars – we’re accountable for them.”

“Finding ways so the general public can see the outcomes of this money is going to be ultra-critical,” Newsome said. “It’s not just a matter of telling them that you spent 25% of the money on construction…but what did you actually do? What’s the ‘so what’ of this event?”

This online training was brought to you by:

Photo credit: Raychel Espiritu on Unsplash

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