A coalition of state and local organizations continued to display mettle in what has become an eight-month marathon to secure additional relief for states as coronavirus cases surge across the country.
NCSL, the National Governors Association, the National League of Cities, and the National Association of Counties galvanized members at a well-attended virtual briefing the groups hosted last week to educate congressional members and staff on the urgent need for additional stimulus funding.
Reflecting on his state’s use of the $2.36 billion it received from the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), made available through the CARES Act, Tennessee Senator Bo Watson (R) described the program benefits and implementation challenges his state experienced.
Tennessee Governor Bill (R) Lee created a bipartisan Fiscal Stimulus Accountability Group to oversee and determine how the state should use the relief funding. Watson, who is a part of the accountability group, explained that Tennessee allocated its share of the funding into three major spending buckets: 1) public health (20%), for testing, nonprofit assistance and more; 2) trust fund (40%); and 3) nonstate entities (40%), for transfer to localities, educational support and small-business grants, among other needs.
Dealing With Challenges
Challenges to utilizing the relief funding included the hard deadline of Dec. 30, 2020, accounting barriers and changing guidance from the Department of Treasury. The lack of clarity from the Treasury as to what were considered allowable expenditures hampered initial use of the funds. In addition, several localities did not have the accounting sophistication necessary to meet state requirements.
Watson also suggested improvements to any future federal relief that may be provided to states and local governments:
• Replenish the the Paycheck Protection Program: It was highly utilized and protected the cost of administering programs at the state level.
• Reduce barriers to implementation: Many groups that would have benefitted from CRF funds did not take advantage because of the accounting barriers.
“Generally, we have had a good experience with the CRF and will spend all the money we received,” Watson said. “We have distributed the funds in an effective and efficient manner, but it could be better for future funding.”
Other elected leaders participating in the event included Commissioner Mary Ann Borgeson of Douglas County, Neb.; Councilmember Kevin Thompson of Mesa, Ariz.; and Jeremy Licht, director of the Rhode Island Pandemic Recovery Office.
While acknowledging that specific needs for federal stimulus vary by state, NCSL continues to urge Congress and the administration to provide additional relief to help states avoid further, more drastic cost-cutting measures for the next fiscal year, including reductions in workforces and the elimination of vital public services.
Jocelyn Salguero is a policy associate and Erlinda Doherty is committee director in NCSL’s State-Federal Relations Program.