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How would western local governments spend Biden’s relief funds? New evidence from CivicPulse survey of local officials

Michael Hotard
Mar 12 2021

With new relief funding on the way, Western local governments look to take advantage of opportunities to support small businesses.

A new CivicPulse survey reports that local governments see changing priorities with new relief funds that are headed their way as part of the $1.9 trillion relief package signed by President Biden. Local government officials indicated that previous funds were most commonly used for implementing public health safety measures, purchasing PPE, and covering payroll expenses. While these areas remain the top priorities for future relief funds, local governments indicate that they will use expand to additional spending areas, especially small business support and vaccine distribution. 
 
The survey, the latest in a partnership between CivicPulse and Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center, surveyed 494 local government officials from across the country in January-February 2021. The survey included chief appointed officials, such as county and city managers, as well as top elected officials and governing board members from a representative sample of counties, municipalities, and townships with populations of 1,000 residents or more. 
 

covid relief spending graph

The results of the survey show how important the previous federal support was to help local governments struggling to fill their budget deficits. Over 81% of local governments indicated that they received some form of relief funding as of January 2021. Of governments that received funding, 91% had received some share of the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Funds. 
 
When looking at specifically western states (those categorized in the West region by the US Census), this percentage of governments receiving any relief funding was 93%. There were some regional differences in secondary sources for additional relief funds, with governments in the Northeast and West more likely to receive funds from FEMA than governments in the Midwest or South. 
 
“With billions of dollars being given to local governments to help them with their budget shortfalls, we now have a sense of what some of the high-need areas where these funds will be spent,” said Nathan Lee, Managing Director of CivicPulse and a professor in the Department of Public Policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology.  “So much attention has been given to how this new round of relief funding will affect the fifty state budgets, but those conversations often ignore the tens of thousands of local governments across the country that are also looking at budget deficits and have far fewer resources available to close those gaps.”
 
On March 11, 2021, a new $1.9 trillion relief bill was signed into law that includes $350 billion in direct aid to state and local governments. Although support for local governments had been included in drafts of the December relief update, it was eventually dropped before the bill’s passage.  
 
When looking at where existing relief funding has been spent, the most common spending areas for governments in all regions of the country were similar. The majority of governments used relief funds for implementing health safety measures and purchasing PPE. However, governments in the West were much likelier to use relief funding for small business support, nonprofit support, and food assistance than governments in other areas of the country. 
 
These differences in priorities are also reflected in the projections for future relief funding. 72% of governments in the West said future funds might be used for small business support compared to 49% in the nation as a whole. 
 
More information on the survey and results can be found in the full report at: https://www.civicpulse.org/relief-report
 
CivicPulse is a nonprofit organization that runs a national survey platform of local government officials. Our mission is to promote information-sharing between local governments and elevate the voice of local governments in national civic discourse. To learn more about our work, please visit civicpulse.org.
 
Contact: Michael Hotard
Phone: 912-663-9450
 

 

 

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