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How the Pandemic Has Shaped the Future of Grants

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This blog post is an excerpt from eCivis' joint Market Trends Report with GovLoop and Carahsoft, "How the Pandemic Has Shaped the Future of Grants."

For many state, local and tribal governments, 2020 drove home the need for grant management modernization in a new and urgent way.

In March 2020, Congress ushered through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that lawmakers hoped would serve as a salve to the pandemic-beleaguered economy. Among the eager recipients of funds were state and local agencies, which primarily got their allocations through the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program and other entitlement grants.

Grant applicants had to act quickly to apply within the act’s deadlines, remain in compliance throughout the process and then distribute the funds – no easy feat, given the accelerated nature of the work amid a public health emergency. But it was especially challenging for agencies relying on legacy systems and processes.

To make matters worse, many of those legacy systems are largely paper-based– a major drawback when the pandemic forced many agencies to close their offices and send employees home.

While the pandemic has been a unique event, the need for modernization is not going away. Future emergencies will arise that stress the system yet again if agencies do not begin to tackle these long-standing problems. This is especially true for HUD’s CDBG Program, which provides housing and rental relief, support to vulnerable populations such as the homeless, and economic development opportunities, all of which might come into play during a crisis.

Navigating Grants Management in Times of Crisis

Inherently a complex process, grant management gets even more complicated in times of crises. The CARES Act exemplifies this. Grants management is a highly complex value chain with many stakeholders in the process if you consider CARES Act dollars going from federal to state to local all the way to nonprofits in the community, businesses in the community, as well as citizens in the community.

It has presented some unique challenges to agencies, such as:

Analogue Processes

The race to meet CARES Act deadlines while in a remote work environment spotlighted the shortcomings of manual, paper-based processes. Whereas governments could previously operate government in analog (meaning still work with paper files, walk them around, get signatures) COVID created a set of circumstances where that analog environment became untenable.

Lack of Scalability

With state and local budget shortfalls estimated to exceed $500 billion in the next two years, interest in CDBG and other grants is high. But as the pandemic showed, legacy systems make it difficult to handle any surge. For example, many governments struggled with websites crashing because of the huge spike in applications for CARES Act assistance. This shortened the timeline to get funding out as well as doubled the amount of work for staff.

Compliance

Compliance requirements added another layer of complexity. As applications roll in and officials review them, they must ensure that they are accountable and transparent when it comes to spending grant and taxpayer dollars. They also must look at compliance in terms of the entire funding process.

The Solution: Modern Tools Promote Collaboration

The solution to all of those challenges is a modern, standardized grant management process. Modernization efforts typically include:

  • Replacing disparate spreadsheets with a centralized grant management system
  • Digitizing and moving to cloud-based processes
  • Automating tracking capabilities
  • Real-time reporting on grant statuses

 

To learn more about how the pandemic has shaped the future of grants and best practices to navigate, download the full report below. 

 

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