The Urgency of Smart Relief Fund Strategy

There is an old German saying: whoever has the gift of choice also has the heavy burden of decision. What city leaders have now is exactly this mix of opportunity and weight.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity for governments to secure their future success. How to leverage and not waste this opportunity is a city leaders’ most important and immediate task.

Cities that have received the first half of their funding need to use it wisely, while also strategically planning for how best to optimize the second half before it hits next year. There has never been a more actionable moment for mayors nationwide. The influx of money can support cities’ accelerated investments during the pandemic to enable remote work, keep operations running, engage constituents, and build new operational efficiencies.

Should city leaders ever have a moment to stop and take a breath, they might ask, “what next?” What’s next is really about leveraging relief funds to continue to drive pandemic-accelerated technology transformation to improve equity and promote solutions to community issues.

Expert Advice

Tyler Kleykamp, director of the State Data Officers Network and fellow at Georgetown’s Beek Center for Social Impact + Innovation, is vocal about why governments should use federal relief funds now to support data infrastructure. In a recent Tyler Tech Podcast episode, Kleykamp explained his top five reasons why governments should invest in this way:

  1. Informed recovery. As we enter the recovery phase, there is a unique opportunity to set up the technical and personnel infrastructure to leverage data to better understand the pandemic’s impact and strategically target assistance to where there is the most need.
  2. Equitable recovery. Data can help governments connect those who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic with new opportunities in the workplace or workforce. Leveraging data can also help ensure, for example, that as we lift eviction and foreclosure moratoria, we can target impacted communities for things like rental assistance or hour programs.
  3. Modern digital infrastructure. There is a relatively low-cost opportunity to put a data infrastructure in place that can help governments integrate across different systems to improve operations and service delivery.
  4. Future data-driven problem solving. Infrastructure put into place now doesn’t go away; it puts governments in a position to continue leveraging and integrating data decades into the future.
  5. Short and long-term success. A digital infrastructure can immediately help with recovery related use cases. Those uses can then be scaled into other aspects of government work from improving traffic safety to making licensing requirements less burdensome for people.

Former Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Mark Funkhouser, shares this perspective. He wrote in How Not to Screw Up Your Government’s Stimulus Windfall, “…making those overdue investments in technology and cybersecurity is another way to save costs down the road while simultaneously better serving your constituents.” He also joined the Tyler Tech Podcast to discuss his five ways to not waste stimulus funds:

  1. Don’t misapply a temporary windfall. Do not use one-time money for an ongoing program that will require continued funding and result in ongoing operating costs well after the initial funding goes away.
  2. Invest to reduce operating costs. Use new working capital with no debt service to invest in infrastructure projects, training, or other items that have significant up-front costs but that will reduce operating expenses in the future.
  3. Think beyond your borders. There are things such as transit investments that benefit an entire region but that no single government can afford. If multiple governments in a region pool their resources, they can achieve big things that have to date been impossible.
  4. Invest in technology and cybersecurity. Investing in critical technology and cybersecurity can save significant costs in the future with improved efficiencies and decreased risk.
  5. Avert short term disaster. Invest in social services and small businesses to address community issues and ensure that local businesses survive and thrive.

Now is the time to strategically map out and implement a city’s long-term digital strategy. City leaders can and should capitalize on new federal funding as well as their pandemic-driven acceleration into virtual operations and remote service. Notably, city leaders also have a moment of new attention and trust from their residents who, perhaps for the first time, really tuned into municipal government’s ability to provide critical information and assistance. This unique, powerful convergence should propel leaders to invest in a modern tech foundation that will provide solution-bearing connections and improve operations, service, and equity well into the future.

American Rescue Plan Act: Full Resources

View ARPA frequently asked questions and access guides, stories, podcasts, and more from Tyler Tech.

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About the Author

Meredith Trimble

About the Author

Meredith Trimble is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting, and bonded infrastructure projects.