In the past 12 years, our country has experienced two significant economic events: the financial crisis of 2008 (the Great Recession) and the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In both instances, the U.S. federal government has infused grant funding into the economy in an effort to mitigate the economic impact for state and local governments and their citizens. Relief packages from these events contain many similarities, but there is a notable difference in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that brings unprecedented accountability and oversight obligations to state and local governments: flexibility in how the Coronavirus Relief funds are managed.
Grant usability requirements are evolving.
A key distinction of the 2009 Recovery Act was the prescriptive mandates on how funds were to be managed. As these expenditures lasted many years, the federal government mandated quarterly reporting inclusive of more than 100 fields – such as jobs created/retained, primary place of performance, and officer compensation. From an IT industry perspective, solution providers were highlighting their ability to meet these prescriptive rules and reporting regulations.
More than a decade later, the federal government rolled out the CARES Act with significant differences in how the grants are distributed, primary use of the funds expended (i.e., necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency), how the funds are reported upon, etc. The U.S. federal government continues to provide clarification on how the funds can be utilized with the usage potentially evolving as the country navigates the pandemic. That said, perhaps the most significant difference is the degree of flexibility in how the CARES Act funds are managed which requires an increased degree of sophistication from a solution and collaboration perspective - let’s take a closer look.
Grants Solutions – meeting these evolving requirements
Technology has advanced tremendously since the Recovery Act in 2009 to the degree that state and local government entities continuously grapple with the many grants management solutions on the market. The flexibility now required to manage CARES Act grants has amplified the need and urgency to find the right technology partner. So how does one differentiate between the many choices?
- Configurability = Flexibility - In many cases, agencies are up against the clock when it comes to the coordination and distribution of CARES Act funding. Citizen needs and expectations are driving expedited timelines. State and local governments must find solutions that are highly configurable to facilitate the tracking, application, distribution and reporting of grant funding. The most effective way to do so is to leverage configurable solutions already in place or turn to solution providers that can partner to execute at an accelerated speed. For example, the state of West Virginia recently partnered with CGI to implement the initial phase of a CARES Act solution in just over a week.
- Nuanced complexity requires deep domain expertise – The uniqueness and relative flexibility of the CARES Act grants make the process of grant management both complex and enthralling. The complexity expands as many of the CARES Act grants are additive to existing grant programs. For example, one must report upon an existing grant while also extrapolating the CARES Act portion for state and local, federal, and citizen reporting. Navigating the nuances of accounting and reporting for the CARES Act grants requires expertise in not only the particular government entity’s ecosystem but also the grants domain and uniqueness of the CARES Act grant requirements. Choosing a partner with deep domain expertise is critical to the success of any technology initiative to support CARES Act management and reporting.
- Unify grants management within your ERP – The dramatic increase in grant funding makes now the right time to unify end-to-end grants management functions within your ERP. The result is simplifying grants management across your organization by eliminating redundant data entry and/or sub-optimal dependencies on complex, costly, burdensome interfaces. Standalone niche grants management solutions are a suboptimal long-term solution when you factor in errors and delays that often accompany multiple systems of record. Operating within a unified ERP inclusive of end-to-end grants management provides the unparalleled benefits of a single source of truth for tracking awarded funds, authorizing distributions to sub-recipients and maintaining grant budgets and associated financials.
As Congress continues to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its unprecedented economic impact, there is ongoing discussion around the need for additional relief programs. We may even see changes to the mandates around fund usage in the current CARES Act funds. Public sector solutions must provide the flexibility required to meet the ongoing evolution of relief program distribution and reporting requirements.
Partnering for success
It took just over a week for the state of West Virginia to launch their CARES Act grants information portal in partnership with our CGI team. Since the go-live of their grants solution, the state has seen the expedited benefits of its unified solution bringing about rapid government mobilization to meet citizen expectations, review of funding applications and approval of COVID-19 expenses, and its ability to meet federally mandated eligibility and reporting requirements. This is the first of several waves to implement the comprehensive grant management solution within the CGI Advantage® ERP across the state.
This rapid pace of implementation is a testament to the importance of cross-agency and stakeholder collaboration. As technology partners to the state, CGI members worked hand-in-hand with state employees to meet the needs and expectations of the state and their citizens.
Executing this solution to distribute West Virginia’s CARES Act grant funds to counties, cities and towns across the state is a testament to how - working together - we are all committed to the successful recovery of our state and local communities.