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National Association of Counties - Federal Assistance and Innovative Counties

  • Impact of funding use regulations: One goal of this study was to review the allowed uses and controls associated with the federal government’s fiscal assistance to counties to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Innovative strategies: The second goal was to identify and document innovative strategies using CRF resources to meet the needs of their citizens, using six county case studies. The focus was on county needs created by the pandemic, with special attention towards inclusive economic recovery and assisting vulnerable and under-served populations with public health and economic security issues.
  • “Planned to actual” spending comparisons: Finally, the study will analyze the CRF spending plans and CRF budgets of the 119 participating counties to document spending categories and allocations by category.

View Study Report

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Final Report

Recommendations

County leaders interviewed were very positive about the amount of money received, and especially about the expeditious delivery of the funds by Treasury. Most noted that the traditional model of developing and getting proposals approved for programs and expenditures would have been too time consuming and difficult during the early days of the pandemic. They said they were scrambling to respond to evolving needs for personal protective equipment, to provide cleaning capabilities where needed, and to perform numerous other support tasks necessary to keep their communities functioning and to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on their citizens. However, overall, the lack of clear guidance and difficulties with some design features of CRF created sustained problems throughout 2020.

For future programs, and/or for further iterations of CRF, these are recommendations to improve program effectiveness and impact:

  • A better coordinated national response is needed for a program of this complexity and urgency (Finding/Recommendation 2.1).
  • Federal departments or agencies responsible for implementing a program such as CRF – in this instance, the Treasury Department -- need legislative funding to stand up a program office with personnel with the skills and expertise needed to design the program, develop effective guidance, and anticipate and respond to questions and issues that will arise, especially during early days (Finding/Recommendation 2.2).
  • Comprehensive guidance for program operations needs to be available when a program is initiated or very soon thereafter (Finding/Recommendation 2.3).
  • State and local governments should be allowed to make expenditures with longer-term payoffs with greater flexibility in allowable uses of the funds (Finding/Recommendation 2.4).
  • Program design should allow coverage of operational expenses and revenue replacement, not only coverage of new COVID-related costs (Finding/Recommendation 2.5).
  • Future legislation should require that large counties are funded to provide selected services for city residents residing within their counties. (Finding/Recommendation 2.6).
  • Future federal relief legislation should require formal evaluation of program impact during and at the end of the program (Finding/Recommendation 2.7).