4 Key Considerations to Unlock CARES Act Money for Public Sector HR

by John Calderon on July 13, 2020

By now, all 50 U.S. states as well as territories have been allocated federal funding in the form of the CARES Act, signed into law back in March in order to help American citizens, businesses, institutions, and local agencies recover from COVID-19 related struggles. The chunk of this $2 trillion bill that is dedicated to helping local government agencies, tribal government agencies, and colleges and universities is referred to as the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

In addition to each state receiving a minimum of $1.25 billion, cities and counties with a population over 500,000, also received a default amount of funding as part of the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund according to the Treasury, which published a list of all states and local government entities that received funding. But there are thousands of other government agencies and educational institutions that are also entitled to funding. So how do you secure CARES Act money for public sector HR?

It wouldn’t be America without individualistic approaches to divvying up the funding -- and each state has its own modus operandi for how the money will be allocated. Perhaps not surprisingly, many HR leaders are feeling frustrated by a lack of clarity on where to go for funding to address their challenges. Some haven’t realized that CARES Act funding is available to them. The bright side is that the applicable use cases are much broader than you might imagine, and many HR departments can justify getting CARES Act money to help them.

That’s the good news. The difficult part is that it will require some legwork on your end, and getting funding will become more competitive in the coming weeks and months. It is possible though, but the key is to strike while the iron is hot by presenting a proposal that checks all the boxes of the CARES Act guidelines while there is still money available. Here are the key considerations for unlocking CARES Act money for public sector HR.

  1. Lots of use cases are covered by the language of the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund.

  2. In the bill signed into law on March 27, 2020, acceptable use cases for funding should cover “necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Take stock of what your organization has gone through since the pandemic began. Are you facing challenges around protecting the health of your employees due to COVID-19 (e.g., logistics around social distancing or archaic paper routing processes)? How effective was your transition to remote working -- does your department have the tools they need to process payroll, manage employee performance, or assign online training? Do you need help hiring new people or reassigning your employees to other roles to support community’s needs because of the pandemic? If you answered yes to any of these use cases, you may have a use case. If you need further guidance on what constitutes a qualifying use case, check out our quick guide or the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) document.

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  4. Identify solutions that will address your specific COVID-19 challenges. 

  5. The Coronavirus Relief Fund is meant to help government agencies and higher ed institutions tackle problems that have arisen due to the pandemic, so simply asking for money for a project that's nice-to-have isn’t going to cut it. That doesn’t mean, however, that your proposed solution can’t kill two birds with one stone. For example, modernizing your HR processes by implementing new technology can protect the health of your employees by eliminating face-to-face interactions in the office and allowing for telework, while also improving long overdue efficiency, and expediency. As long as your grant proposal emphasizes the pandemic-related needs, you have a strong case.

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  7. Be prepared to research.

  8. In some cases, the information for how to request funding for your organization, or who to ask isn’t straightforward. Some states’ governors are holding all of the money until a later date while they determine how to allocate it, while other municipalities have set up discretionary boards to hear proposals. So, the first step is finding out if your organization, city, and/or county already received any of the money that flowed down from the state level. If your organization has, your approach will be different than if you have to go to the state. Regardless, you’ll need to spend time getting the answers you need, but it’s well worth it in the end if you get a winning proposal.

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  10. Know the motives of your funder.

  11. Once you’ve determined who holds the keys to potential funding, take stock of what the funding body outlines as its ultimate goals. Has it emphasized the importance of reopening the economy or minimizing COVID-19 cases, for example. Crafting your proposal in such a way that speaks to their desires from a political perspective is more likely to work in your favor. You may know exactly how the solution you’ve proposed will help HR, but you’ll need to position it so that it fits your funder’s larger vision too.

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Interested in learning more? Check out our quick guide on demystifying the CARES Act for public sector HR, as well as an eBook that explains how to write a winning proposal, and a recorded CARES Act webinar where former public sector officials share their advice for requesting money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund.

John Calderon

John Calderon is the Content Strategist at NEOGOV. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from University of California, Los Angeles and has spent over a decade creating content as a marketing professional and journalist. Contact John: jcalderon@neogov.net