How One Data Dashboard Helps Small Cities Leverage Federal Funding


  • Denise Belser
June 21, 2024 - (3 min read)

Co-authored by Lacy Glencora Loftin, Grant Navigator, National League of Citites

In many communities, decades of underinvestment in federal workforce development programs, disaster mitigation and federal food programs leaves too many families hungry, vulnerable to extreme weather, underperforming in schools and struggling to make ends meet. Finding resources to address these challenges is an especially daunting task for municipal leaders of cities and towns under 10,000 in population, which often lack the capacity to navigate and successfully secure funding through complex federal programs.

National League of Cities (NLC) developed a Federal Grant Equity Dashboard to connect disinvested cities with critical resources and guidance to help local governments make data-informed decisions about various priorities and policies to address disparities in their communities.

Source: National League of Cities

With over 200+ indicators, the dashboard looks at disparities in health, education, workforce and housing between city and county level census tracts on top of city-level data for demographics such as age, ethnicity, income and education.

Using a data-driven approach to improve family outcomes, NLC’s Federal Grant Equity Dashboard helps cities measure the vulnerability of each census track within a community focusing on priority issues such as housing, transportation, and employment. A city then receives a data assessment that can inform 2 -3 funding priorities for federal applications around basic human needs and community well-being, as well as be used as a grant narrative starting point.

This equity tool is especially useful in areas of the country where workforce and infrastructure needs are high. For example, city leaders in four states – Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Missouri – are aligning data narratives with local community restoration efforts with the help of a team of grant navigators who can provide hands-on assistance.

Through the Strong Southern Communities Initiative (SSCI), mayors and city executives are receiving additional guidance in understanding the numbers behind the narrative and making connections to funding opportunities and broader city priorities.

Source: National League of Cities

Utilizing the results of a data assessment coupled with coaching and peer learning opportunities, city leaders are identifying specific conditions of well-being they seek to address in their communities resulting in new partnerships and funding resources. Small cities like Jericho, Arkansas (pop. 99) secured a $100,000 FUN Park Grant to install new playground equipment and grills, to provide a safe and free family-friendly space within the community. Other cities like Tuskegee, Alabama (pop. 8,859) established a community-facing coalition to improve first through third grade reading comprehension skills in partnership with Macon County Schools, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee Institute High School’s Class of 1974’s Read to Me Program, former educators, community organizations and citizens. And Richwood, Louisiana (pop. 3881) Mayor Gerald Brown has had success providing upgrades to local park pavilions as part of a broader community engagement plan that would attract children and families to the park.

Seeing data at this granular level creates a data narrative that begins to tell the story of the underemployed parent, the unemployed youth and the under-resourced community. For SSCI participants, geographically based in high regions of disinvestment, this is an incredibly useful tool. SSCI cities have been awarded over $24 million in federal and state grants to date.

How can the Strong Southern Communities Initiative (SSCI) help you?

NLC’s Strong Southern Communities Initiative is always looking to help new cities in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Fill out the initiative’s communications form to get connected to a grant navigator and learn how NLC can help your community.

About the Author

Denise Belser

About the Author

Denise Belser is the Director, Pathways and Funding at the National League of Cities.