The U.S. Department of Treasury recently released the first allocation of the American Recovery Plan Act’s (ARPA) $350 billion earmark of flexible aid to state and local governments to help revive the economy. As county leaders consider how to invest those funds, evaluate their impact and report on program performance, they are facing some pressing challenges.
First, counties need to accurately assess local need in order to make smart decisions around resource allocation. Figuring out where to spend aid dollars and generating support for those decisions can be difficult.
There is also a significant amount of pressure that comes with a new funding opportunity. This is a once-in-a-generation chance to modernize traditional service models and, in doing so, create more equitable counties in which all residents have fair access to government information and services. The onus is on governments to use these funds in a transformative, forward-looking way.
Finally, once funds begin to be spent, county leaders must measure performance to show that recovery policies are working. When spending does not return desired results, leaders need to quickly pivot and adjust. Furthermore, new reporting and compliance requirements accompany ARPA funds. This point is particularly important as the first interim reports regarding expenditures are due to the Treasury on August 31.
To meet reporting guidelines and overcome the challenges above, county leaders should leverage data — both from their own departments and from third-party sources.
Following are four ways data can help advance every county’s ARPA programs.
- (1) Identify the most impacted industries and communities. There has been wide variation in the economic impacts of the pandemic and the most adverse consequences have been concentrated to particular industries and geographic areas. Decision-makers at the county level need a granular understanding of which segments of their jurisdiction have been most severely affected so that they can target ARPA-funded economic development programs to those neighborhoods and industries most in need.
Granular third-party data is particularly useful in highlighting concentrations of economic distress. For example, small business revenue data from data providers like Womply can be used to show those industries that have suffered the most severe revenue losses as well as the census tracts where the most adversely affected businesses are located. These insights are especially important to state and local governments that want their limited ARPA dollars to be as effective as possible in reviving their economies.
- (2) Evaluate impact of ARPA funded programs in real time. Any ARPA-funded economic recovery intervention needs to be rapidly evaluated to ensure that it is achieving intended results. If programs are working, they should be scaled; if programs are not supporting residents’ needs, resources should be reallocated to more effective programs.
Data is indispensable for rapid evaluation. County leaders should look to their own operational data to calculate output (or program productivity) metrics such as numbers of businesses assisted or numbers of workers trained. But even more so, they need good independent data sources that allow the tracking of outcome measures, such as increases in consumer spending. With data from providers like Affinity Solutions, county governments can analyze these outcome metrics to evaluate how consumers are responding to economic stimulus programs. Insights from these data are increasingly available to counties and can be leveraged to make near real-time adjustments.
- (3) Measure equity in recovery. The United States entered the COVID-19 pandemic with already stark economic inequities drawn across racial, class, gender and geographical boundaries. The impacts of the pandemic threaten to increase those inequities. For any county leader vested in addressing inequities head on, they need a detailed understanding of their jurisdiction’s economic conditions, so they can track recovery on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood and community-by-community basis.
Geospatial analysis is critical to providing an equity lens on economic recovery. Top-line measures on sales tax receipts, employment rates and other economic metrics mask underlying complexities and nuances experienced by different communities. State and local leaders need granular data, such as mobility data from providers like Safegraph that can be broken out on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.
- (4) Simplify ARPA compliance and reporting. The ARPA requires state and local governments with populations 250,000 and above to create public reports accounting for how ARPA funds are spent and the performance of programs funded by those resources. These reports are likely to receive substantial scrutiny not only from the federal government, but also local oversight entities.
To ensure that these reports are accurate, timely and high-quality, county governments should reuse the data leveraged in their day-to-day management in automated reports that anyone can view. If counties concentrate on connected data needed for policy development, implementation and evaluation, they set themselves up for success in creating high-quality automated reports required by the federal government.
Pierce County, Washington, for example, has already created an automated public ARPA performance report by surfacing financial data in an intuitive, web-based report. By investing in data to support operations, Pierce County has created an automated report at low cost as a by-product.
Data is an essential force multiplier to the ARPA to state and local governments to help them prioritize recovery investments, evaluate programs, promote equity and comply with federal reporting requirements. Targeted, equitable recovery only comes with using leading economic data. Investing in software that integrates internal administrative data with leading economic data empowers leaders with the insights they need for a complete picture of economic recovery.
The federal government recognizes this, and, in its Interim Final Rule, the U.S. Department of Treasury makes it clear that investments in data technology themselves are eligible for ARPA funding. County governments should take this opportunity to invest in data for a smarter, equitable and effective economic recovery.
Listen as Oliver Wise, director of recovery solutions for Tyler, talks more about how data is an essential component in smart ARPA fund use.
View ARPA frequently asked questions and access guides, stories, podcasts, and more.