ATLANTA — Today, the Southern Economic Advancement Project (SEAP) released its report, Engagement & Equity First: Opportunities and Challenges for Federal Funding Implementation, which aims to identify innovations and challenges among local governments and nonprofit organizations as they implement federal recovery funds. Identifying and resolving these can bring more community voices to the table for spending decisions and produce more equitable outcomes that will change the landscape of many Southern communities.
Some of the reports’ top lessons learned include:
- What’s Working
- Directing funding to local governments without the need to apply or go through the states has provided greater flexibility to tailor spending based on local needs. Numerous interviewees noted the importance of sending funds directly to city and county governments.
- Flexible funds, flowing directly to local governments, allow for adaptive implementation, alignment with community priorities, and new cross-sector partnerships.
- What’s Challenging
- Many local governments lack the internal capacity needed to engage communities deeply, manage new revenues, and measure impact.
- Even when governments engage communities and prioritize equity, it can be difficult to see and analyze if there is a lack of required transparency. Several interviewees noted the drawbacks of simplified reporting for smaller jurisdictions.
Based on these lessons and others, here are some of the top recommendations for:
- Federal Government
- Provide funding for effective implementation, not just programs: Local governments and community-based organizations need funding for evaluations, technical assistance, community navigators, community organizing, and data collection.
- State & Local Governments
- Invest resources in regional infrastructure: Many participants recommended greater investment in regional infrastructure to support local implementation.
- Intermediaries & National/Regional Institutions
- Design products tailored to small local governments and organizations: When designing a product or service, consider how it could be useful for towns or organizations with just a few staff members.
- Community-Based Organizations & Direct Service Providers
- Develop and disseminate information on government processes: Residents and community advocates need access to accessible information that helps demystify complex government funding processes and constraints.
- Don’t pull back: Philanthropy can amplify the impact of federal dollars. Philanthropic dollars can serve as a match, assist more organizations in having the capacity to apply for funds, and create ecosystems of support and technical assistance.
The participatory research conducted for this report includes interviews and surveys with more than 50 stakeholders in academia, direct service, government, and advocacy. Interviews dive into lessons learned from recent funding, such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act. A key lesson across stakeholders was the value of sending federal funds directly to city and county governments.
“In the past, a lot of this funding in [our state] would flow through the state government first, and the state government will decide how to divvy it up among the local area regions, cities, and counties. And, to put it mildly, the state is not on the same page with us on a lot of this stuff like serving the most needy and vulnerable communities.”
In addition to the report are SEAP’s recently developed:
- Federal Grant-Finding Tool – was developed as part of a project with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of Commerce and The Opportunity Project to create digital tools that help state, local, tribal, and territorial governments navigate grant opportunities enabled by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) and other major initiatives.
About the Southern Economic Advancement Project
The Southern Economic Advancement Project (SEAP) is your partner and resource. SEAP amplifies existing organizations’ and networks’ efforts to broaden economic power and build a more equitable future. Broadening economic power brings attention to how race, class, and gender intersect in social and economic policy in the South. SEAP explores policy ideas designed to address these connections directly. SEAP focuses on 12 Southern states and marginalized/vulnerable populations within the region.