Engagement & Equity First: Opportunities and Challenges for Federal Funding Implementation


Federal funding programs can boost economic growth, improve individual quality of life, and strengthen community resiliency. As the COVID-19 pandemic showed, federal dollars are especially important in times of crisis, as the federal government has the unique ability to leverage abundant resources.

Whether you are a mother who is able to feed her children because of Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, a small business owner who is able to keep staff as a result of the Paycheck Protection Program, or someone who lost their job but was able to avoid eviction thanks to Emergency Rental Assistance – everyone has benefited from public programs either directly or indirectly.

Federal funding programs help direct recipients, both individuals and institutions, meet their immediate needs and invest in long-term well-being. Indirect recipients of federal funding, like landlords and employers, benefit from federal funding when renters have greater access to financial assistance and workers have access to child care they need to keep working. Federal funding benefits everyone by providing the aid and support that families and communities need in times of crisis.

For many federal funding programs, state and local governments decide how dollars are spent, what goals are prioritized, and what outcomes result. Accessible, transparent information is essential to determine how effective federal funding is at achieving its intended purpose. The following framework can serve as a guide to help understand what impacts are delivered and sustained due to federal funding.


How are residents engaged, and how is community input used to set priorities and inform spending decisions?


What processes are used to decide how dollars are spent?


How are dollars dispersed and what outcomes result?


Are results evaluated and which data points are measured, collected, and reported?

Based on insights from more than 50 stakeholders, this report aims to identify challenges associated with federal funding implementation and recommend opportunities to promote more meaningful community engagement and deliver equitable impacts now and in the future.


Federal Funding

Financial assistance received from a federal agency in the form of a grant or loan.


The process that is used to determine programmatic priorities, eligibility, and administer federal funding.


The process of communicating with residents to understand their needs and priorities in ways that build trusting relationships and inform public policy decisions and implementation.


The authorization for a funding entity to take back the money if it is unspent or recapture funds if a grantee/beneficiary fails to deliver on promised activities.


The process after funding has been authorized of deciding how funding will be distributed and administered.


The process that is used to evaluate funding compliance and impact.


Just and fair inclusion such that all people have the information and access needed to participate in public processes and programs.

Council of Governments (COGs)

Federally designated, multi-county, and nonprofit entities also known as Council of Governments, Regional Planning and Development Commissions, or Area Development Districts that aim to facilitate community-based, regionally driven economic development.

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI)

Financial lenders including community development banks, credit unions, loan funds, and venture capital funds that specialize in lending to individuals, organizations, and businesses in under-resourced communities without access to traditional banking and capital.


  • Alexandra Forter Sirota, North Carolina Budget & Tax Center
  • Bill Kopsky, Arkansas Public Policy Panel
  • Brennan Griffin, Texas Appleseed
  • Chris Spencer, Black Belt Community Foundation
  • Daniel Kanso, Georgia Budget & Policy Institute
  • Edgar Beltrán, PowerSwitch Action
  • Jacob Vigil, New Mexico Voices for Children
  • Jen Tolentino, Results for America
  • Kiyadh Burt & Ed Sivak, HOPE Policy Institute
  • Leah Tennille, Strategic Funding Group
  • LiJia Gong, Local Progress
  • Michelle Maziar, Open Society Foundations Leadership in Government Fellow
  • Rich Huddleston, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families
  • Sara Chester, The Industrial Commons
  • Seth DiStefano, West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy
  • William Chen, City of Seattle
  • Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP)
  • Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN)
  • Good Jobs First
  • Groundwork Collaborative
  • Local Progress
  • National Association of Counties (NACo)
  • People’s Action
  • ProsperUS

*Special thanks to Sarah Beth Gehl, Maria Filippelli, Morgan Smith, and Kate Naranjo for their substantive contributions to this research and report. This report was produced with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.*

Authored by Leila Pedersen

Authored by Leila Pedersen

Leila spent more than a decade launching and leading economic and social impact initiatives for public, private, and nonprofit organizations of all shapes and sizes. Her work managing campaigns, publishing research, passing landmark legislation, and directing millions of dollars in public and philanthropic funding was featured in the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the News & Observer, and more.