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The new “shovel ready”: Preparing for COVID-19 infrastructure stimulus funding

April 16, 2020

By Heidi Peper, Michael Chelminski and Amy Broughton

What municipal leaders can be doing now to prepare their communities for access to post-COVID-19 infrastructure funding

As we look forward to leaving our homes and navigating the post-COVID-19 landscape—and rededicating focus on meeting our essential infrastructure project needs—what can communities do now to ensure they’re not left behind in the recovery effort? Public time and money have likely been re-prioritized—multiple times—and municipalities that have been focused on ensuring the health and wellbeing of their residents may not have the time to know what types of stimulus funding has already passed, or what is likely to come in the future. This is a topic that is relevant to them, and vitally important to helping essential projects move forward. Here at Stantec, our goal is to help our communities best absorb and recover from the shocks they’re experiencing today by leveraging available resources and moving forward critical activities and projects.

Over the past several years, the Stantec team has helped the City of Wausau, WI obtain more than $2.5 million in federal and state funding to remediate and redevelop 31 acres of vacant and contaminated riverfront parcels.

Looking back at 2008

We’ve been here before. As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, there was a major focus on getting projects shovel ready to access stimulus funding. Those projects that were ready to go advanced to the front of the line so that shovels could start digging immediately and get people back to work. Taking stock of how ARRA worked in 2009 will serve communities well in today’s crisis.

In addition to shovel ready projects, ARRA funds were largely distributed via existing programs and we anticipate the same will be true for any future infrastructure stimulus. Stantec’s network of more than 140 North American Funding Program specialists know these programs inside and out, including the agency staff and where they prioritize their funding.

Where we are right now

Today, the focus in Congress is on relief, with three phases of stimulus funding passed so far, including the most recent “phase three” $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which among many other things, will benefit most Americans by way of stimulus checks. We anticipate at least one more phase focused on relief and believe that Congress will then turn their focus to an infrastructure stimulus plan that will emphasize recovery. Shovel-ready projects will likely take priority again for any infrastructure stimulus funding, as these projects can create jobs right away—when they’re needed most.

Stantec has a team that is monitoring and evaluating the hundreds of pieces of legislation that are coming out at the state and federal levels to identify which ones are relevant for our client communities.

The time is now for communities to prepare and think broadly about what their priorities are and what types of projects will increase their resiliency in the face of future disasters and further their long-term goals.

Stantec helped Green Bay, WI secure $2.7 million in federal and state grants funds to plan, assess, and clean up brownfield sites, including 17 parcels in The Shipyard redevelopment area, and we continue to assist the city in surfacing funds for implementation.

Assess budgets and proactively plan for gaps

Communities are likely re-prioritizing budgets that were approved in the last fiscal year and are now being forced to redirect funds that they had earmarked for important capital improvement projects. In addition to increased costs, they are also worried about reduced revenue, whether it be reduced tax collection or reduced or unpaid fees. Essentially, they are spending more money and their revenue is declining.

Stantec has a tool that can help municipal leaders with budgetary concerns. The Financial Analysis & Management System (FAMS) is a web-based, real-time modeling tool that allows municipal staff to quickly evaluate ranges of revenue impacts and compare “what if” scenarios of alternative spending plans that offset those impacts, which is especially important in light of reduced revenue and/or changing priorities. This analysis can identify gaps in the budget left by funds being redirected, increased costs, and/or reduced revenues.

Our funding specialists can help fill those budget holes. They are trusted advisors to our clients, government agencies, and policymakers—and are already working with communities to help respond to and recover from COVID-19. We can help our clients analyze costs directly related to COVID-19 response, evaluate impacted projects for reimbursement opportunities, research existing and emerging sources of funding, apply for that funding, and manage funds once awarded.

The funding process in three steps, from research and strategy to funds administration.

Rebuild better

The key is to rebuild not just for rebuilding sake, but to rebuild sustainably. There will of course be short-term response needs, but what about longer-term impacts and needs? Our funding specialists can help clients create a funding strategy that matches needs with funds, with an eye towards a more resilient community.

1. Document: Track COVID-19 related expenses

We can’t say it enough. Document, document, document! Are you incurring additional expenses as a result of COVID-19? This not only includes materials and equipment but also staff time and volunteer contributions. Document it! And be explicit with how the expense relates to COVID-19. Due to these expenses, where are there gaps in budgets? What projects are you now shelving due to these unexpected expenses? Document this as well. You will need to make these direct links to secure some streams of stimulus funding.

2. Plan: Know what’s been done and what needs to be done

Have a good grasp on planning that your community has done to date, such as master plans, capital improvement plans (CIPs), hazard mitigation plans, feasibility studies, and reports. Review the documentation that supports projects in these plans and identify what items need to be done for projects to be shovel ready so that you can get them teed up for submissions to federal and/or state agencies. This includes preliminary design, cost estimating, and environmental review in some cases. Understand the full range of benefits that your capital projects can bring—economic, environmental, safety, hazard mitigation, etc.—and think creatively about how you might bundle and disaggregate projects to align with funding program objectives. Identify which of your projects are already on state agency funding lists.

3. Strategize: Put a funding strategy in place

Undertaking steps 1 and 2 will inform a funding strategy that matches the needs and benefits of your capital projects with the anticipated stimulus funding and puts you in a better position to submit for the funding when the time comes.

While our clients are busy responding to the immediate, emergent needs they are facing right now, we can help them cut through all of the noise and find funding—what’s real, what’s not, what’s speculation—so they can be more focused in their approach to planning and implementation.

This is the first in a multi-part blog series on how communities can prepare for the various streams of COVID-19 stimulus funding. Next Up: Disaster & Resiliency Funding with Amy Broughton and Josh Human

  • Heidi Peper

    As our senior funding leader, Heidi leads a coordinated effort between finding and securing funding, building strong relationships, and identifying opportunities to provide greater value to clients.

    Contact Heidi
  • Michael Chelminski

    With a love for playing in water, Michael prepares ecological evaluation, mitigation, and restoration analyses and designs

    Contact Michael
  • Amy Broughton

    Focused on supporting municipal and utility clients, Amy helps find funding for critical infrastructure projects. She also oversees the US West North American funding program, matching funding specialists to client business challenges.

    Contact Amy
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