New program to help cities navigate federal recovery funding maze

September 22, 2021

Bloomberg Philanthropies and the U.S. Conference of Mayors Wednesday announced a new partnership to support mayors across the country identify, obtain and retain billions in federal recovery dollars. Cities are struggling to navigate rules associated with multiple federal funding streams, including the American Rescue Plan, and need support to properly maximize and hold on to response and recovery funds for their cities.

The new COVID Federal Assistance e311 program provides U.S. cities a free searchable website to find answers on the rules and regulations governing the use of federal funds. The program leverages philanthropy to provide access to a team of experts from some of the leading emergency management firms in the country to answer questions from cities to help expedite the flow of resources to them.

“Mayors have been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic since day one, and now they’re working to lead the economic recovery, too,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bloomberg LP and the 108th Mayor of New York City. “But to access the federal funding that is available to them, they’ll need to navigate a complicated maze of regulations and paperwork. To help mayors stay focused on the crisis at hand, our team will support city halls across the country as they go through the process of applying for and securing federal funds. And by helping mayors unlock these critical resources, we can help accelerate our national recovery.”

“Mayors want to invest these much-needed federal dollars in rebuilding their communities and creating an equitable economic recovery,” said Tom Cochran, CEO and Executive Director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “This e311 service will help mayors follow the rules and make sure they keep every federal dollar they receive.”

As part of its COVID-19 Local Response Initiative, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the USCM have hosted over a dozen webinars attended by more than 2,400 municipal officials to discuss how to access, spend, and retain federal funding for COVID response and recovery as part of their City Fiscal Tracking and Federal Reimbursement Initiative.

On Tuesday, Results for America hosted a virtual discussion about how cities can use American Rescue Plan Act funds to make high-impact investments that address local challenges with data and evidence.

James Anderson, head of Government Innovation Programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies, moderated a conversation with Gene Sperling, White House American Rescue Plan Coordinator and Senior Advisor to President Biden, about the need for mayors to act urgently as they use ARPA funds, but also thoughtfully and with a long-term strategy.

“If it doesn’t happen locally, it just doesn’t happen,” Anderson said, emphasizing cities’ role as the “critical last mile for delivery” on services that run the policy gamut. “I speak with mayors every day, and many have told me some version of the same thing. They don’t want to look back in 24- or 36-months-time and see that they simply spent the funds—they want to be able to point to investments that really moved their communities forward.”

Sperling stressed the flexibility city officials have in spending ARPA funds and that the relief always was intended to both offer immediate help and be used to boost long-term investments in key areas.

“The genius of the American Rescue Plan was that it was designed to be rescue plan, a crisis plan, but also designed to ensure a durable and equitable recovery that could sustain some bumps in the road.”