Since the onset of the pandemic, Congress has provided an unprecedented $5 trillion in pandemic relief spending to support state, local, and tribal governments and individuals, private and nonprofit organizations alike.  Government spending at this level in such a short amount of time begs the question: Are recipients utilizing funds efficiently, effectively, and equitably? Needing an organization to oversee these tremendous funds, The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) launched in April 2020. Its mission is to “serve the American public by promoting transparency and the coordinated oversight of the Federal Government’s coronavirus response to prevent and detect fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement and to identify and mitigate major risks that cross program and agency boundaries.”
To support their mission, highlight the results of their work, and generate discussion around the question above, the PRAC co-hosted three virtual events with the Academy in 2021, and the fourth will occur on June 15th, 2022. The initial events brought together industry experts from higher education, governmental, and non-governmental organizations to discuss the impact of the pandemic spending on underserved communities from three perspectives:
- Equitable distribution of funds
- Housing and rental assistance
- Access to broadband resources
The panelists agreed that programs like the expanded child tax credit, increased unemployment benefits, emergency housing and rental assistance (ERA), and the Payroll Protection Program blunted economic effects on low-income earners. Some even credit these programs with preventing the decade-long depression forecast in the early days of the pandemic.
In addition to each program’s successes, however, the panelists identified areas of improvement regarding equity. Each event’s panelists identified solutions, including the following:
- Improve availability of IRS data for low-income families or find alternative means of distributing funds to these underserved communities.
- Take demographics into consideration for ERA distributions.
- Utilize local nonprofits and other grassroots efforts for their pre-established relationships with hard-to-reach and ESL communities.
- Consider increased flexibility for funding to allow the purchase of devices to enable households to take advantage of improved broadband infrastructure, primarily when related to remote learning.
Throughout the first three events, a central recurring theme was that efficiency in the absence of equity leads to underutilization of benefits and spending waste, often at the expense of America’s most at-risk families and business owners. When US state and federal governments respond to the next crisis, they should incorporate these lessons to build more resilient social and economic infrastructure. To protect low-income and underserved communities in the future, agencies should plan now to incorporate equity in program design, increase communications with states and localities through intergovernmental partnerships, and allow more flexibility in funding applications. This planning will help ensure a more equitable and resilient future for all communities when the next disaster strikes.
The Academy hosts a wide variety of conversations about public administration topics with external stakeholders and Fellows. To stay tuned for news related to the Academy’s summer 2022 events, sign up for our mailing list or follow this link to learn more about the next event with the PRAC on June 15th.
To learn more about the Pandemic Response Program series or other fascinating topics, head over to the Academy’s official YouTube channel or follow the links for each session below.
- The Impact of Pandemic Response Programs and Spending on Underserved Communities
- The Impact of Housing and Rental Assistance Programs on Underserved Communities
- Did Pandemic Response Funding Help Americans Connect in a Crisis?