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Using CARES Act Funding for Software: Guidance for Cities, Counties, and Universities

Many municipalities and universities have been reaching out to Cartegraph, asking whether an investment in operations management technology or space management technology is eligible for CARES Act funding. From our understanding, it's possible. It's simply a matter of how you're leveraging the software to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and keep your community safe. (And, as with all funding of this nature, you should check with your city or county leadership.)

Throughout this blog post, I'll help summarize what the CARES Act entails, what type of expenditures are covered, and what kinds of software solutions can help your city, county, college, or university tackle the new normal. I'll also share considerations to put your organization in the best possible position to receive eligible CARES funding for software, examples of fund distributions, and next steps you can take today.

FIRST: WHAT IS THE CARES ACT? What criteria do I need to meet and what's covered?

The CARES Act is the largest stimulus package in U.S. history, with over $2 trillion of programs, grants, and support packages. That includes the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), which is being distributed to states and any cities or counties over 500,000 in population. Per the U.S. Department of Treasury, these funds can only be used to cover expenses that:

  1. Are necessary expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, AND
  2. Were not accounted for in the state or government budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020, and
  3. Were incurred between March 1 and December 30, 2020.

Wondering what's considered a necessary expenditure? According to U.S. Department of Treasury Coronavirus Relief Fund Guidance document, eligible expenses include the following and more. Dig into the linked document for more examples.

  • Expenses for disinfection of public areas and other facilities in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • Expenses for technical assistance to local authorities or other entities on mitigation of COVID-19-related threats to public health and safety.
  • Expenses for public safety measures undertaken in response to COVID-19.
  • Expenses to improve telework capabilities for public employees to enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions

WHAT SOFTWARE CAN HELP? What solutions can help my team and community bounce back?

From return-to work planning software and COVID-19 response tracking apps to mobile work and asset management solutions, there are a lot of solutions out there that can help your organization tackle the new normal. For this section, I'm going to dive into examples based on two of the necessary expenditures we just discussed.

CARES Act Funding Necessary Expenditure:

Expenses for technical assistance on mitigation of COVID-19-related threats to public health and safety.

Many government offices have remained open, or temporarily closed then re-opened, with decreased in-office staff, split shifts to limit interaction, or altered office layouts.

If you’re working on your plan to do the same, consider a return-to-work planning solution to help you modify your space, develop new traffic flow patterns, determine appropriate occupancy limits and more. Detailed planning like this will provide peace of mind to your community as they begin to engage with your offices again.

Cartegraph can also provide the tools to help your organization track expenses from required cleaning, disinfecting, and office realignments to additional tasks that your staff may incur as a result of COVID-19.

CARES Act Funding Necessary Expenditure:

Expenses to improve telework capabilities for public employees to enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions.

This has been one of the biggest challenges for municipalities—especially those who hadn’t experienced telework prior to this pandemic. How do you socially distance your entire crew when gathering for the morning meeting? Having the tools to assign work orders remotely, see daily tasks without going to an in-person staff huddle, or access maintenance history in the field has been invaluable for public works, utilities, and parks crews. Whether you’re trying to replace paper work orders or find a better way to route citizen requests directly to crews, let’s talk.


State Government Relief Distribution Examples

As you know, Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) distribution varies greatly from state to state. Here are a few examples:

  • South Dakota received $1.25B from the CRF and allocated $125M to cities and counties, based on population. The state formed Planning Districts to help guide local governments on the proper use of the funds. They also created an online portal where cities and counties can submit and track CARES Act expenses.
  • Missouri was one of the first states to act, sending 25% of the funds the state received to counties throughout the state (over $520M). They created a dashboard to track where CARES funds are being used. To help support this effort, the Missouri State Treasurer’s office established two guidelines for organizations to remember as these funds are spent:

    1. Communities must avoid duplication of benefits with respect to any federal dollars already received.
    2. Record keeping is key. County governments must document expenses, including the rationale of why they were necessary. Each local government needs to be able to show good stewardship of taxpayer resources.
  • Illinois created the Local CURE (Coronavirus Urgent Remediation Emergency) Support Program, giving local governments access to a $250M fund where they can submit requests for reimbursement in 6 categories:

    1. Payroll for public health and safety employees
    2. Budgeted personnel or services diverted to a substantially different use
    3. Improvement to telework capabilities of public employees
    4. Medical expenses
    5. Public health expenses
    6. Distance learning

County CARES ACT Distribution Examples

Counties that have received funds directly via CRF, or as part of state allocations, have also set guidelines and ways to share funds with their local municipalities. For example:

  • Lake County, IL has set aside $10M for its 52 municipalities and 19 fire protection districts in the first of three rounds of support.
  • Jackson County, MO apportioned $36M to the nine cities in the county, from $347K to Greenwood to $16M for Kansas City, for reimbursement of unanticipated costs and needs related to COVID-19.

College and University CARES ACT Distribution

Higher education received a distribution of $14B from the CARES Act through the U.S. Department of Education. The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) consists of two different types of aid:

  1. The student portion, which is $6.2B to any Title IV post-secondary institution, but restricted in that it must be distributed directly to the students most affected by the pandemic. Organizations must take part in this portion to receive the second.
  2. The so-called “institutional portion,” may be used to cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to coronavirus, excluding costs related to contractors for pre-enrollment recruitment activities; endowments; or capital outlays associated with certain facilities.

One of the greatest challenges facing universities right now is assessing and implementing the mass influx of their students back onto their campuses this fall or next spring, while still maintaining CDC guidelines or social distancing best practices. Learn how Penn State prepared for a safe return to campus.

Federal Emergency Management Reimbursement

If CRF funds aren’t available for your organization, there is still the option of FEMA reimbursement through the Emergency Management Performance Grant Program – COVID-19 Supplemental to prepare your facilities for reopening, assist with telework for staff, and support other pandemic expenses.

In this program, FEMA will award funding to support planning and operational readiness for COVID-19 preparedness and response among federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial partners.

READY TO TAKE THE NEXT STEP? Remember: you're not alone. Cartegraph is here to help.

I'm happy to share what we've learned about CARES Act eligibility so far and hope this summary has been helpful. If you're ready to explore using eligible CRF funds for software with a dedicated partner, let's connect.

First, we'll want to hear about your unique challenges and figure out together what tools your team needs to cost-effectively navigate your COVID-19 response. Some things to start thinking about are:

  • Do you need a space planning solution to help you re-open your facilities safely?
  • Do you need a way to support social distancing by assigning and completing work remotely?
  • Do you need a way to track your COVID-19 response: disinfection activities, building alterations, cleaning supply inventory management, etc.?

From there, we'll get to work—side-by-side with you every step of the way. If there's anything we've learned from this pandemic, it's that we're all in this together.

This information is not intended as legal guidance. Please talk to your legal counsel or state representative for specific eligibility details.