How to Fund Online Community Engagement Through the CARES Act

Widespread social distancing and work-from-home requirements have increased demand for direct resident communication and for online processes. Americans are most likely to trust doctors, scientists, health officials and local government leaders as accurate sources of information about the pandemic.

Cities across and outside the US are creating citizen engagement projects specific to the management of COVID-19 in order to inform and educate their communities. These projects take a proactive, positive, and partnering approach to managing COVID-19 at the community level. In times of crisis, it is more critical than ever that communities have a trusted source for factual, up to date information. EngagementHQ provides a dedicated engagement centric website that serves to keep residents informed, meet misinformation with facts, and facilitate discussions.

How to Request Funds

The CARES Act provides funding for necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19. The funding can be used for expanding communication capabilities, such as enabling online community engagement to reach people at home and providing them with opportunities to participate in ‘virtual projects’. Support can be directed to: 

  • Assistance for State, Local, and Tribal Governments
  • Assistance for K-12 Schools, Higher Education Institutions, Libraries, and Museums

State and municipal governments with over 500,000 population applied for funding directly (this has already happened), while cities and counties of fewer than 500,000 must request funding from their state. The CARES Act requires that payments be used only to cover costs that were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020 (the date of enactment of the CARES Act). Procurement and implementation (go-live date) of communication-related platforms must occur by December 30, 2020. Funding can be used for a reimbursement of money already spent and can cover costs over multiple months or multiple years (so long that it is paid upfront).

CARES funding has started flowing to state and local governments, and municipalities are working out how best to leverage this funding to address a wide range of needs, from transitioning services online to communicating critical information to their citizens. The urgent nature of the CARES Act is forcing government leaders to make decisions about how to allocate these supplemental funds quickly.

In order to secure money for the procurement of an online community engagement platform, communication and planning leaders should reach out to their executive and/or finance departments with a proposal outlining the benefits of meaningful digital community engagement as it relates to the management of the COVID-19 crisis. Messages should focus on:

  • Quickly sharing critical information and enabling collaboration directly with residents, in an inclusive and transparent manner, while creating internal efficiencies by moving engagement processes online to continue government operations and allow staff to work remotely.
  • Building trust with residents and between government departments by providing easy and affordable digital access to information.
  • Using trusted cloud-based technology supported by accessibility and security certifications.

The following are 3 recent resources to help you build a winning proposal:

  1. How Bang the Table + EngagementHQ Can Support in Times of Crisis
  2. Digital First Community Engagement for Local Government in the COVID-19 Era
  3. Seven Reasons to Keep Talking

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