From the County Manager Column from April 21, 2021
Evaluation of CARES funding provides guide for our use of American Rescue Plan funds
In a workshop with our board of commissioners today, we laid out all that we know at this juncture about forthcoming funding through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARP). This includes more than $65 billion as direct aid for local governments, of which Ramsey County is due to receive $107.6 million. I wrote about this last month in Local help from the American Rescue Plan will come in many forms, where I also shared that Finance and other experts across the county were evaluating all aspects of the legislation in order to determine our best path forward to support our community and organization.
Unlike the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) from March 2020 (of which Ramsey County received $96 million as a direct allocation), the comprehensive ARP bill funds many services which we applied our direct allocation of local CARES dollars toward. Here are some of those examples:
- Public health departments and community health centers across the country will receive billions of dollars to support their missions including vaccinations and testing.
- Billions of dollars will also be allocated for housing needs such as rental, mortgage and utility assistance, emergency housing vouchers, housing counseling and homelessness supports.
- States will receive more than $1 billion in funding to cover a 15% benefit increase extension for SNAP through September, additional food assistance will be provided to WIC and through FEMA for emergency food and shelter.
- Businesses will receive tens of billions in assistance targeted toward those segments of the economy hardest hit by the pandemic – such as restaurants and small businesses - and the Paycheck Protection Program is being expanded to cover nonprofits.
- Other programs provide billions more in funding for mental health grants and support for older Americans.
- States and tribal governments are eligible for capital funding for projects that directly respond to the public health emergency.
- Other programs support child care and early education.
- The largest portion of the bill provides qualifying families and individuals with direct payments – Minnesota residents are due to receive about $6.3 billion through these direct stimulus payments.
Although we continue to learn more about how much exactly Minnesota will receive through the programs listed above, the April 20 workshop marked an important step in planning for ARP funds as we prepare to receive the first half of our direct allocation in early May ($54 million). If you didn't get a chance to watch the workshop video, we did present this graphic which provides a quick way of conceptualizing application of ARP funds. We have both more time and flexibility, too – we will not have a situation where we need to invest tens of millions of dollars into our community within a nine-month window as we did with CARES in 2020. I would reiterate that today's workshop was a first step in our planning - we are using the flexibility allowed by ARP to make sure we maximize the effectiveness of our investment and fully coordinate with our partners.
The recently-completed evaluation of our CARES efforts is another invaluable guidepost for us as we plan to support our community and organization with ARP dollars. To recap, a substantial amount of CARES funding was used to support projects that further the county’s strategic goals, have applicability beyond the pandemic, enable us to be accountable to our residents and are part of a coordinated effort to mitigate racial or ethnic disparities in the county.
Project areas included:
- Food and basic needs.
- Emergency assistance.
- Landlord assistance.
- Housing and homelessness.
- Workforce development.
- Small business relief.
- Service delivery redesign.
- Race, equity and community emergency response.
- Early childhood initiative.
To measure the effectiveness of our response, the Research and Evaluation unit within Health and Wellness Administration prepared an evaluation report that addresses three primary questions for each of the projects:
- Are Ramsey County residents better off as a result of Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act programming?
- Did the project achieve the outcomes the community was seeking?
- How can Ramsey County better attract, retain and support community partners with county contracts?
Program evaluation can also help gauge whether community-identified needs and outcomes are being met and racial disparities are being reduced. This report – along with executive summaries, interim reports and plans for each of the project areas – can be found on our CARES Program Evaluation & Research page. You can also view program summaries on Open Ramsey County for an at-a-glance recap of how the county invested CARES funding in Ramsey Investment and Support Efforts (RISE) programs.
I encourage you to browse the links above for more in-depth analysis, evaluation methodology and more, but here are some highlights:
- Nearly 8,000 Ramsey County residents received home-delivered meals, more than 22,000 deliveries were made to homes and over 46,000 meals were delivered to students and youth.
- More than $7 million in direct financial assistance was provided to 4,551 households to ensure housing stability.
- More than $7.4 million was provided to landlords on behalf of 2,212 tenants.
- Nearly 1,000 people experiencing homelessness were sheltered in hotels and emergency shelters.
- More than 6,000 residents received direct workforce development services.
- $14 million in financial assistance was provided to 1,210 small businesses.
- About 1,300 families received vouchers to Lakeshore Learning to support child development.
- The county contracted with more than 200 organizations.
I am so thankful and proud of staff across the organization for all of the hard work that went into fully utilizing our CARES funds to ensure our community was able to benefit from that significant investment by the initial deadline of Dec. 30, 2020 and not a single cent was returned to the federal government.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the community members and vendors who provided robust feedback through surveys and evaluation sessions. Ramsey County’s goal of accountability rests on the public’s trust that resources are being properly spent and the entire community is being served. Program evaluation, in addition to compliance and contract monitoring, helps ensure accountability to the public.
And we owe a huge thank you to the many members of the research and evaluation team! I encourage you to check out the acknowledgments section to see the many staff without whom this report would not be possible. Their hard and thorough work will continue to provide dividends throughout our decision-making on how to most effectively invest federal funding in support of our residents, businesses, partners and employees.