How will stimulus funding and post-COVID-19 recovery create a more resilient country?
April 21, 2020
April 21, 2020
The pandemic is resulting in some of the greatest disaster impacts in US history. Government funds can help revive the nation’s economic engine.
COVID-19 is anything but a typical disaster. In addition to the dramatic disruptions to our normal ways of life, the recovery will likely present atypical funding opportunities and the potential to transform our future.
Echoing the “we’re all in this together” message in nearly every COVID-19 television advertisement we see right now, all states and territories have a major disaster declaration in place at the same time. It’s also the first time that major disaster declarations have been approved for a virus threat, opening a range of support from the federal government.
While many governors have requested the “full suite” of possible support that accompanies a declaration, only a small number of those have been approved. To date, approvals for all US states include Direct Federal Assistance and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance Category B—Emergency Protective Measures, which will provide much needed reimbursement to eligible healthcare facilities and jurisdictions. Various other approvals for some states, such as crisis counseling, have been granted. Approvals for additional FEMA support could be granted over the next few months and could include the ability to fund projects for:
In a typical natural disaster, FEMA support is provided to rebuild disaster-stricken communities. However, in a typical disaster, damage and infrastructure impacts are more obvious. This pandemic has brought an atypical mix of damages beyond the immediate “force account” and emergency protective measures that are not as easily identified or quantified. This makes justifying additional sources of FEMA funding more challenging but not impossible.
Arguably, COVID-19 is resulting in some of the greatest disaster impacts (i.e., damage) ever experienced, thus justifying the approval of additional FEMA assistance. At a minimum we should consider hazard mitigation, economic recovery, and social program support. Approving additional FEMA support will also greatly increase the amount of grant funding for FEMA’s new pre-disaster, hazard-mitigation grant program, known as Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC), which will be initiated sometime this fall, creating additional FEMA resources to help communities recover with resilience in mind.
It’s the first time that major disaster declarations have been approved for a virus threat, opening a range of support from the federal government.
Of note, congressional appropriations also provide recovery funding through other federal agencies. These include the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (including Community Development Block Grants - Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) and CDBG-Mitigation), the Economic Development Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among a host of others.
In the recent past, Congress has leveraged existing funding programs from the Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, and other agencies to support economic recovery. The expectation is that, along with FEMA and other emergency response and recovery programs, these programs will once again be tapped to expeditiously distribute stimulus and recovery funding to communities. Currently, congressional support is response-focused, with legislation like the $2.3 trillion CARES Act, but future bills for recovery packages are anticipated soon.
If there is any upside to the unfathomable suffering and disruption this event has caused, it is that recovery funding could help transform our communities and usher in a more resilient, post-COVID-19 era. That era would recognize and work to manage a continued virus threat, and provide the potential to renew, retrofit, and infuse resilience into our new normal way of life.
As most of us are hunkered down at home, limiting the pollution caused by vehicles and industry, we’ve seen firsthand that this behavior achieves bluer skies, clearer water, and a healthier earth. Our challenge comes in achieving this without wreaking havoc on our economy, which is where COVID-19 recovery funding comes in.
Not only can we jump start our economy with this funding, it can also be used to safeguard our communities against future natural disaster threats (including climate change), advance our industries using more sustainable technologies, and lean into technology that propels human capabilities.
As these funding sources begin to come to light, they are likely to be marked by flexibility to fast-track use and rev our nation’s economic engine. (In fact, we’re already seeing this with the Category B funding for which FEMA developed a simplified online application.) Here are some areas where your community may be able to leverage disaster recovery funding to transform to a more resilient post-COVID-19 community:
Perhaps most notable are the social benefits that could result from these transformations. Recovering from this disaster, we should focus on areas that make us collectively stronger and less vulnerable. If we lean into the transformation, we may emerge from this global pandemic better than when we started. After all, we are all in this together.
This is the second in a multi-part blog series on how communities can prepare for the various streams of COVID-19 stimulus funding. Read Part 1 here: The new “shovel ready”: Preparing for COVID-19 infrastructure stimulus funding