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Podcast: COVID-19 Relief Spending with Michael Hotard and Kevin Kearney

Posted on April 27, 2021


Michael Hotard and Kevin Kearney - GovLove

Michael HotardKevin Kearney
Michael Hotard
Director of Operations
CivicPulse
TwitterLinkedIn
Kevin Kearney
City Manager
City of Bradbury, CA
LinkedIn

How relief funds are being spent. Michael Hotard, Director of Operations at CivicPulse, and Kevin Kearney, City Manager of the City of Bradbury, California, joined the podcast to talk about COVID-19 relief funding for local government. They discussed the key findings of CivicPulse’s survey on past and future COVID-19 relief spending. They also shared how local governments can use these results in their own community.

Host: Lauren Palmer

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Episode Transcription

Message  00:01

Hi everyone. This is Sarah Kerner, a co founder of CivStart, and we’re excited to invite Gov Love listeners to our upcoming event, the state of Gov tech. The state of Gov tech is a free event happening June 15th and 16th for Local Government Leaders. The event is co hosted by government technology magazine. We’re excited to be partnering with ELGL on making this a fantastic virtual event aimed at unpacking the latest trends and insights in the local government technology market. You can register for your free ticket at CivStart.org/events. We’re using the hashtag #GovTechLive to share what we’re learning so you can follow along on social media too. Hope to see you there!

Lauren Palmer  00:51

Coming to you from Kansas City, Missouri, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government. Gov Love is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network, we engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Lauren Palmer, a Gov Love host and the Director of Local Government Services for the Mid America Regional Council. Today, my guests are Michael Hotard, Director of Operations at CivicPulse, and Kevin Kearney, City Manager of the City of Bradbury, California and a member of the CivicPulse advisory board. Today we’re talking with Michael and Kevin about the research of CivicPulse to understand the status of existing and future COVID-19 relief funding for local governments. Kevin and Michael, welcome to Gov love.

Kevin Kearney  01:31

Thank you, Lauren. It’s a pleasure to be on here.

Lauren Palmer  01:34

Great. Well, we’re glad to have you. So we always like to start our podcast with a lightning round. And Kevin, we’re gonna start with you. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Kevin Kearney  01:45

Yeah, so as a kid, I wanted to be a pilot. And the reason for that is, to this day, I’ve been to over 50 different countries and five continents. And as a kid, I think my first overseas trips or out of the country trip was to Costa Rica at three or four. And so today, I’m very much fascinated still with flight. But as a kid, I think being a pilot symbolized freedom, adventure, and travel for me.

Lauren Palmer  02:15

Very cool. So you’ve done a lot of international travel?

Kevin Kearney  02:19

I have, you know, I won’t get too much into it. But it started with my grandfather, who has since passed, but he has to belong to a club where to be a member, you have to have gone to at least 100 different countries. He took my mom as a traveling companion throughout her younger years, and then it kind of rubbed off on her, this traveling bug and then and then eventually materialized to me as well.

Lauren Palmer  02:44

Okay, so what about you, Michael, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Michael Hotard  02:48

Yeah, that was always a really tough question for me. And I still don’t quite understand why. I always got it, you know, since I was a little kid. And I never seem to know, it wasn’t like it was changing every week, like I wanted this and then that, it’s just like, looked at possible career paths, and is just so overwhelming. And I think I’ve had a somewhat circuitous career path. And that may be a reason why is I could never really figure that out.

Lauren Palmer  03:15

Okay, I’ve never had that answer. So it’s exciting to hear something a little different. Alright, so Michael, we’ll let you start on this next question. Who would play you in a movie biopic?

Michael Hotard  03:28

Yeah, ever since I was probably around 15 or so people will occasionally say I look like Ben Stiller. So I think that might be a choice for me. I don’t know if that’s a cop out to choose that. But I do think his role, you know, he’s often kind of a fun, play some fun characters, but he can do a little more serious, too. But I think I’d go with Ben Stiller.

Lauren Palmer  03:52

I agree. That’s a great pick. He’s a very versatile actor. Kevin, what about you?

Kevin Kearney  03:58

Yeah, you know, so this is this is a question I struggle with, is, I don’t really know, I’ve put a lot of thought into just questions and operations and other miscellaneous things throughout life, but never really who would play me in a movie. And so I think by default, I’ll just say, I like Leonardo DiCaprio’s movies that he’s in, and he’s got a broad portfolio of various types of things that he’s been in also, and so I’ll just name him.

Lauren Palmer  04:33

Okay, I like that pick. And then for our final question, Kevin, what’s your go to karaoke song?

Kevin Kearney  04:41

Yeah, so this question is a little easier for me to answer. I have two young children at home aged four and six. And so my wild karaoke nights consist of being on my kids small karaoke machine, right before bedtime, around 8pm ripping up Disney songs. So give me a good Frozen or Moana song. Yeah, those are the ones I know best. I’ve had a lot of practice.

Lauren Palmer  05:07

Oh, all right. Are you a fan of Kidz Bop?

Kevin Kearney  05:11

You know, I, they have come across our house before. I do know them.

Lauren Palmer  05:16

Yeah, right. That’s where I have my like at home karaoke moments listening to the Michael, what’s your karaoke go to?

Michael Hotard  05:28

I actually miss karaoke a lot. I think that’s something that the COVID-19 pandemic has really shut down. And I’m not really sure if and when it will come back. But I used to go out to karaoke nights quite frequently. And my go to close the night down song is always Twist and Shout by The Beatles. I find it’s a song where you can really belt it out without necessarily being on key as much. But it’s really high energy and can get the crowd going.

Lauren Palmer  06:01

That’s a good pick, you know, that is the trick to karaoke just to sing loud. Even if you’re not really in tune.

Michael Hotard  06:07

For, for my birthday a couple of years ago, my wife actually got me karaoke lessons, which was a thing offered by this independent singer in the Bay Area when I was living out there. That was one of the tips was a lot of confidence. Just approach it with confidence.

Lauren Palmer  06:25

It’s true. It’s a performance.

Kevin Kearney  06:27

I’ve never heard of karaoke lessons before.

Lauren Palmer  06:29

No, no, I’m very interested in that.

Michael Hotard  06:33

Yeah, it was, it was a it was fun. It was a I think it was a way for her, she was a like an independent artist, and just another way to kind of use music as a as a form of revenue, but it was really fun. I’d recommend recommend them to others.

Lauren Palmer  06:50

Very cool. Well, before we move on from our lightning round, I’m gonna throw in just a fourth bonus question. So I’m gonna put you on the spot here, Kevin, but I learned something interesting about you in preparing for this podcast that you’re an urban farmer. Tell us about your chickens.

Kevin Kearney  07:07

Sure. So yeah, I live in metropolitan Los Angeles County area. And in so our plots of land, or at least mine isn’t that large or anything of that sort. But, you know, during COVID, I had a little bit of free time, and built a chicken coop in my backyard. And, and so I am a proud owner of six backyard chickens, which I love dearly, and my kids love a lot. And I have frequently fielded questions about those chickens and how neat it is to get eggs and how I might be saving money. But in actuality, we spend so much money pampering those animals that the the investment or the return on investment doesn’t compare at all. But they’re, they’re fun animals to have.

Lauren Palmer  07:58

Oh, very good. Thanks for sharing that.

Michael Hotard  08:00

I have been pushing my wife for us to get chickens for a few years now. And Kevin, I do want to talk to you offline to learn more about that experience.

Lauren Palmer  08:10

Yeah, I just admire that you did something constructive with your spare COVID-19 quarantine time instead of just binge watching Netflix like I did.

Kevin Kearney  08:22

Yeah, my, my as a result of some of this, my wife and I have, or often say that maybe our next house we’ll get more land and an add to our, our livestock somehow, whether that’s with ducks or geese or other types of of animals. I think it’s just fun. It’s fun overall.

Lauren Palmer  08:42

All right, well, we can’t wait to see what you do with it. Okay, so we will move on now into the heart of our interview. We want to start by having each of you tell us a little bit about your career path. So Kevin, do you want to start?

Kevin Kearney  08:56

Sure. So I mentioned how I wanted to start off being a pilot in life because of the traveling. But I think eventually the traveling and the exposure to different peoples and cultures translated eventually into public service and wanting to help people, recognizing that that the world is a pretty small place. So after after high school, for whatever reason, I was eyeing the military and and was introduced to a cadet program with my local Sheriff’s Department. And to me it was a perfect blend of this military and the desire for public service. And honestly, I think it was a great fit. It shaped a lot of my future decisions as well. And from there, I got an undergraduate degree in criminology, a Master’s in Public Administration, and in various internships with both local and federal law enforcement. Specifically the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the ATF but toward the end of grad school, my knees start to go out, which I can operate fine on a day to day basis, but it prevented me from running the miles through an academy. So I was able to fall back on my masters and my passion for public service and landed a job in Bradbury actually started my career here as a management analyst. And I worked in Bradbury for a while and moved to a more well known city city of Beverly Hills. I was there for some time, and then eventually back to Bradbury, as the city manager, where I’m at now. I’m continuing my education by pursuing a Doctorate of policy Planning and Development degree from the University of Southern California, USC. And it’s a four year program, I have one more so I see the light at the end of the tunnel, which is quite exciting. But through that program, and becoming more fluent with research, is how I came across CivicPulse and some of the work that they’re doing, the good work that they’re doing and providing meaningful data, both on and to local governments.

Lauren Palmer  11:03

Okay, and we are looking forward to hearing more about some of that work in our conversation. But before that, Michael, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your career path?

Michael Hotard  11:11

Sure. So right after college, I had thought I wanted to do something with public service. And I was also interested in travel. So the Peace Corps was really appealing to me. And I found a master’s program that allowed me to combine a Master’s education program with Peace Corps experience. So that’s what I did right after college. I was at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois for a year. And then I spent three years in Kazakhstan in the Peace Corps. Normally the Peace Corps is a 27 month commitment, but I was really liking what I was doing, so I kind of stayed an extra year and re-upped for a third year in the Peace Corps. And when I got back, I worked for the US Department of Labor in the Boston regional office for a few years. There, I was in the Employment and Training Administration, working specifically with job training grants that were given out to nonprofits, local government, state governments, and community colleges. And while I was with the federal government, I realized, I really want to do more in terms of understanding impact evaluation, I thought we did a pretty good job at kind of compliance monitoring. That was mostly my job at DOL but I wanted to really understand what was effective, what program should we be making investments in and trying to develop. And around that same time my wife got into medical school out in California. So we moved across the country from Boston to the Bay Area. And I found a position as a research program manager at the Stanford immigration policy lab. And while I was there, I worked mostly on looking at domestic immigration policy and what was effective at under or what was effective for encouraging integration for both immigrants and the host communities. And while I was there at Stanford, actually, I met a few other people and helped co found the CivicPulse, which is the nonprofit I’m working at now. It kind of started as a side project initially, but I was able to come on full time last year, where I’m currently Director of Operations at CivicPulse. And I think it’s it’s been a long path to get here. But where I’m at now, it combines like the policy research interests that I’ve found in myself, as well as my interest in government and specifically local government.

Lauren Palmer  13:48

Great, so we want to learn more about CivicPulse. What is it?

Michael Hotard  13:52

Sure! So CivicPulse is a nonprofit whose mission is to provide insights for and about local governments. We focus on conducting high quality surveys of elected policymakers and non elected officials at the local government level. We publish reports and research on these policymaker views around a variety of issues pertinent to local government. And I think our overall mission is to increase civic engagement at the local level, and also provide information that can help policymakers make more informed decisions for their community.

Lauren Palmer  14:27

Great. And Kevin, we want to learn a little bit more about where you’re working in the City of Bradbury. So tell us about your community and maybe how you got connected working with CivicPulse.

Kevin Kearney  14:38

Sure, so Bradbury is a small pretty affluent city located in Los Angeles County, California. We’re about 40 minutes east of Los Angeles with no traffic. Of course. The city is a bit over 1,000 residents in a small city budget, contracts out most of the city services. uniquely, the Community prides itself in upholding its tagline of rural tranquility, especially situated in metropolitan LA County. We do have some Notable residents in our city. The most recent made the front page of Yahoo News a few weeks ago, for those on the West Coast, West Side, Lindsay Snyder, who is the president owner of In and Out Burger has listed her house for $17.5 million. I have council members sometimes ask me whether or not I’m interested in properties like these, and I use it as a good opportunity to ask for a substantially massively huge raise. So regarding CivicPulse, and how I, you know, became involved or why I became involved in it is mostly because the organization has rigorous research that they’re publishing, publishing on a continual basis. You know, with local government there, there are a lot of professional level discussions going on, be it online, or magazines or in conferences. But but there’s not always the empirical data or analysis to support some of these arguments or discussions. And in my opinion, there’s there’s a gap and it’s substantial. What I see is that the academic researchers tend to focus more on state and federal government, and oftentimes neglect issues at the local level. And this is where CivicPulse steps in, and their data and their findings serve to provide a much richer level of discussion within the within the field.

Lauren Palmer  16:35

So we want to focus today on some recent work, that CivicPulse led, and we’re talking about COVID-19 relief funding for local governments, how communities used CARES Act funds, how they plan to spend future dollars and the resources that they rely on to guide those decisions. And for our Gov Love listeners, you can find a PDF of the recent survey results from CivicPulse on this topic at their website, www.CivicPulse.org. Or on our Gov Love website in the page for this episode. But Michael, can you just tell us a little bit more about this report that you released last month of your nationwide survey on these issues, and why you chose to research this topic?

Michael Hotard  17:16

Sure. So we conducted a survey of around 494 local government officials, which included both elected policymakers as well as top appointed officials in January February of 2021. And we wanted to ask them about their experience with COVID-19 relief funding from the previous year, as well as kind of a look forward to 2021 with the potential of stimulus of additional stimulus funding, which was still a hypothetical back at the start of the year. And just in kind of choosing this specific topic at that time. COVID-19 has had such a huge impact on all aspects of society, local government is no exception there. And as many listeners to this podcast know, government budgets, in particular has really been affected by the economic recession accompanying the pandemic. And there were there were a number of surveys done of local governments throughout 2020. I think many of them were kind of in the summer, somewhere in early fall. And they were focusing on some of these fiscal effects. But we didn’t see any new data available from the last quarter of 2020. And looking back at that time, even at the start of December 2020, you know, there then these millions of dollars in CARES act spending CARES act funding that had gone to local governments. And at the start of December, the deadline to spend all the CARES Act funding was still the end of 2020. And there were lots of stories and national and local newspapers about governments really trying to get the funds out the door. It was really needed, but it was hard to spend. And we just saw kind of a knowledge gap, information gap about what had happened in that last quarter of 2020. Where had the funds been spent? Had the funds been spent? What was the government, local government experience, especially focusing on like recent experiences. So we saw that as a survey topic that could really fill in that knowledge gap. And then also on the survey, another important thing, like, because we didn’t feel that in like late January at that time, it really did seem like new stimulus funding was going to happen. It wasn’t clear what form or shape that would be in. But we also wanted to ask about that to kind of go ahead and try to understand how local officials were considering this possibility of future funds. Given that it seemed like it would be very important throughout the rest of 2021

Lauren Palmer  20:00

So we’re gonna talk more about your findings. But first, Kevin, I want to give you a chance to talk about how you and other local officials on the CivicPulse advisory board helped support this work.

Kevin Kearney  20:11

Sure. So first, I think there are a lot of smart researchers and academics associated with so CivicPulse. And Michael here is definitely one of them. But But my role is to bring the voice of the practitioner into the mix, whether that’s through research or survey design, and provide advice and guidance more from the field, so that those in the field can can benefit from these types of research projects. For this particular project, Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, was a sponsor of the survey. So there was dialogue with some of the research team, and also a former city manager from the Bay Area, who was associated with the center, added his support and insight as well.

Lauren Palmer  20:54

Awesome, so what did you learn? Michael, Can you summarize some of the key findings for us?

Michael Hotard  21:00

Certainly. So like I mentioned, we’d asked local government officials about their experiences with past funding, as well as where they might spend future funds. And we found out and I just kind of thinking through the logic of it, like, first we asked, you know, had they received any funds at all. And we found out that the vast majority of government, over 80% had received some form of relief spending. And that was highly concentrated among Coronavirus relief funds from the CARES act with kind of fewer funds coming from FEMA or HUD, FTA or some other sources. So it seemed like most of the relief funding that got to local governments was this pot of money from the CARES act, CRF. We found that at least a third of governments responding to our survey had some funding left to spend in 2021 from that initial relief, initial kind of pot of relief funds, but we didn’t ask how much they had left. So just want to make like an important caveat that it wasn’t like a third of funds were left but a third still had some funds left to spend. And we found the most common areas of spending were for things like PPE, public health response, and covering payroll, we’d actually tried, we were hoping to kind of understand if there had been any innovations in using the funds. But we actually found that these were the three main areas. And there didn’t seem to be that many unique responses. It really seemed like people were spending them where it was needed in these kind of somewhat obvious areas. But this is I think, areas where the funding was allowed and also most needed. And then we also asked about future funds. And I thought that was a really interesting comparison to see, you know, maybe how these funds, future funds may differ from the past funds. And we did find some changes, we found that the top three areas still like public health, PPE. And payroll were predicted to be the areas where the most local government’s plan to spend some additional funding. But certain things had noticeable increases, including vaccine distribution, and many more governments being interested in possibly doing broadband expansion. So those are I think, were some of the the key findings that I found interesting.

Lauren Palmer  23:35

Did anything surprise you in the findings? And I’d like to hear from both of you. But Kevin, we’ll start with you.

Kevin Kearney  23:41

Sure. So this is kind of a fun question for me to answer turning into more of a research geek is that there’s a few items of interests that I found as a result of this. And that’s the seeing the decrease in safety measures and PPE and payroll and IT infrastructure and more of an increase in future spending in small business support and housing and rental assistance in vaccine distribution. And when you think about it, it makes sense that the CARES act was very much about government’s scrambling to get on top of the COVID issue and the problems that they were experiencing. The rush to P- for PPE and laptops for employees to work remotely. But you know, that mad or that initial mad dash is subsiding or has subsided. And the shift has now toward more of the longer term priorities on how do we maintain our businesses, and how do we keep our people housed, and how do we get the vaccine to everyone? I think that was kind of the first one of interest. The second was that how local governments seem to seek guidance from other local governments. And to me this makes sense because one of the first things I do as a city manager when a challenge or issue arises is I talk to other surrounding cities, other city managers. But but I think it highlights the importance of those entities that work with cities. So for example, you know, your organization is the Mid America Regional Council, Lauren is to keep working with cities, feeding them information and thoughts and ideas. Because if they’re able to impact one city, chances are you’re going to have a ripple effect since the cities seem to all be learning off of one another. But the but the most surprising and most thought provoking item to me was this variation of spending between the regions. So when the respondents were asked about which areas of funds they plan on spending for upcoming fund distribution, the various regions seemed to pretty much agree that safety measures and PPE were key areas of expense. However, the West showed greater spread of spending on small business support, nonprofit support, and food assistance compared to the other regions, especially in the Midwest. And I find those differences quite interesting.

Lauren Palmer  26:12

Yeah, thanks. I really appreciate recognizing the role of regional councils and not just regional councils, but state associations and organizations like ELGL that are fostering professional networking and creating opportunities to establish those relationships that the survey really validates are so important, in times of crisis to really reach out to each other and problem solve together to make the best possible impact. So what about you, Michael, anything that surprised you in the findings or particularly in the variations to across geographic regions?

Michael Hotard  26:50

Yeah, I think first touch on as, as Kevin mentioned, and you also mentioned this, you know, how were cities seeking guidance on spending funding? I found that result really interesting. And so our, our survey showed that for governments that did receive funding when we asked, Where do they seek guidance, 71% said, other local governments, over 60% said state governments 40% said federal government and around a third said state associations and 13% said national associations. And so just like, you know, asking that question, maybe for a practitioner like Kevin, maybe it’s a little obvious, but I think for us, it was really interesting to see how much peer networking does seem to be happening. And I would love to kind of explore that topic more in future surveys or research and understanding more about how those networks are created, if it is possibly through regional associations, or if it’s just kind of through personal relationships. We didn’t really dive into that. But I thought that was a really interesting result, as I said, you know, something we hope to do more broadly at CivicPulse to be a useful resource for local government practitioners. And so understanding how they seek out guidance and where they turn to for information is helpful for us to think about, you know, how can we tap into possible peer networks with information that practitioners can use. And then I think on the regional differences, that was also, that was interesting, and I don’t have a great explanation for why those differences might be, as Kevin pointed out, certain things like nonprofit support and small business support seem much higher in the West. and certain other things like food assistance, was 29% in the south, but only 16% in the Midwest. And we, when we look our geographic differences, we look at census regions as a way to divide up the country. So it’s the Northeast, the South, the Midwest and the West. And thinking about just, you know, CARES act spending, for many local governments, they did receive these funds from the state. If you happen to be a very large city or county, you may have received funds directly, but otherwise, you’re receiving them from a pass through. And the pass throughs were the ones to really set I think the exact guidance for a specific local government to follow. And I’m not sure if some regions coalesced around certain types of guidance. And it’s very possible that certain states decided to provide more clarity on allowances or restrict allowances are encouraged use in certain certain ways. And maybe it’s possible that states and certain regions look to each other just as local governments were looking to understand, maybe states were also looking to their Neighbors understanding how these funds could be spent. So that’s one possible explanation around kind of regional differences. But that was something interesting that we saw.

Lauren Palmer  30:12

Okay. The report also illustrates that governments of different sizes have different experiences, what stands out to you about how smaller communities have responded to COVID-19 compared to the larger cities?

Michael Hotard  30:25

Definitely, that was another kind of stark difference when we did do some of these sub sample breakouts into government serving different population sizes. And so specifically talking about kind of past funding, we did find that larger communities were much likelier to spend the funds across more spending areas, it really seemed like for smaller communities, their use of funds, and even future funds was really concentrated in just a few buckets. And oftentimes, those kind of three major buckets that we touched on earlier. And so I think that was one major difference was in areas such as small business support, nonprofits support, or food assistance or rental assistance, we saw those spending areas were much more likely for local governments that were serving larger communities. And again, I don’t have, we don’t quite know why this was, I have a couple kind of speculat- speculations as to why. One is that larger areas often got more funds. And actually, I think it was based on population size, and our survey data reflects that as well. So these larger areas had more funds. And it’s possible that they were able to kind of pay for these critical needs areas, and maybe have funds left over. And once you met those critical needs, you were able to use funds for other things like small business support or rental assistance. I think another reason could be based on capacity. So I think larger cities and counties were more likely to have existing programs or departments that could find ways to implement some of these other programs. Many small communities may not have the staff to roll these programs out on a very short term basis, the CARES act as implemented, really had to get the funds out the door, or you might lose them. And I know it was a struggle, is often a struggle to set up entirely new programs with vague spending guidance. So I do think that some of it might be these larger cities just had capacity that they could adapt. And thinking forward to like the American Rescue Plan funds that I do think that they have a much longer runway for spending. And so at the very least, like policymakers will be able to take a step back and decide what the best investments are for their community, rather than just feeling like they need to spend it. So they don’t lose it. So I do wonder if for future funds now that the regulations are a little more set, if we will see kind of a more diverse portfolio spending even among smaller communities, as they are able to really plan how the funds can be best spent in their community.

Lauren Palmer  33:29

Yeah, definitely. It’ll be interesting to see if we see more of that innovation that you were mentioning at the beginning, that kind of prompted the survey. 

Michael Hotard  33:38

Definitely, yeah.

Lauren Palmer  33:40

Since there’s a little more flexibility on how to use the dollars.

Michael Hotard  33:44

We did. So something that didn’t actually make it into the report was we did ask, like, for the best use of funds, or the most innovative use of funds for local governments as an open ended question. And we collected that data, and we’re still analyzing it. And it’s a little harder to analyze, because it’s open ended. And it’s not as straightforward as like a closed ended quantitative question. But we, you know, we asked this innovation question, hoping to really find some, like standout examples, and there were some interesting programs. But mostly, a lot of people said, you know, we had these needs. It was, you know, like crisis and spending crisis, budget crisis, health crisis. We needed to spend the funds in these ways and there wasn’t time to innovate and there wasn’t allowances to innovate. That’s the, you know, some, I think some areas are exceptions, but across the board, that’s kind of what we were seeing was not much time or ability to innovate with the CARES funds, but maybe with ARP, there will be more opportunity there.

Lauren Palmer  34:59

Kevin, as I said, Manager How do you utilize research like this? What did you learn that influenced how you’re approaching COVID-19 response and recovery in your area?

Kevin Kearney  35:10

So CivicPulse has a number of research projects published, which can be found online. These, these are studies in the gender gap or the role of software in local government. And I think these drill down more into the local level learning and reflection. In my opinion, I think this report is aimed at a higher level for those policymakers and local advocacy organizations to really better understand what upcoming spending means. I think that we’re at a critical time right now. The American Rescue Plan Act was just approved and cities are awaiting the disbursement which could come at any point from from the Treasury Department. And I would expect that these findings from from the project would guide the states, federal governments and advocacy organizations on what upcoming expenditures might look like. From there translates into providing appropriate training and clarity to cities, on the certain line items that we’ve identified and talked about today. Or recognizing how these priorities may have shifted, which could lead to more focus, understanding, and support. Overall, it I think, provides a basis or a starting point. So instead of having to wait weeks or months after funds are allocated to see where the spending actually occurred, there’s a glimpse into where it may be spent based off of these reports. Because if you wait the weeks or months by then the organizations are already behind the ball.

Lauren Palmer  36:44

Right. Yeah, that’s a really good point. So Michael, this survey was administered, you know, back before the end of the year when future funding was just hypothetical. But of course, now it’s a reality with the American Rescue Plan. What other questions would you ask if you repeated the survey today?

Michael Hotard  37:03

Yeah, I think now that the American Rescue Plan exists, our question around future funding may result in a different set of responses. When we had asked it back at the start of the year, we tried to ask it in a way that was getting people to think more broadly than CARES act and not try to put themselves in that mindset. So it was asked in a way of like potential funds, where the spending limitations are not yet known yet. But I think it’s impossible for people to kind of set themselves up that way. And I think, for a lot of people answering it, they did have the CARES act frame of mind. And I would be interested in knowing how local governments might use the funds now, now that there is another stimulus Act passed, and it does, I think the guidance is not quite out yet. But there is some back the initial legislation is there. And guidance is forthcoming soon. And it does have a different focus. You can fill in your budget gaps. There’s specifically mentioned on water projects and broadband. So I think even just asking the same question, again, now that the hypothetical relief funds have become a tangible program, would be interesting. I also think that as is true, for the past 12 months, month to month, so much changes on the ground. So we asked this survey, we conducted this survey back in January and February of 2021. Vaccine distribution was still ramping up. I think, at that time, it was vaccines were available, especially to healthcare workers, and like a very small subset of community. Now, you know, just last week, I think it opened up to everyone. And so it’s, the vaccine distribution, we did see an increase in planned spending. I’d be interested in knowing if local government still saw that as a priority. I think it’s really shifted from how do we set up vaccine distribution center to maybe how do we get everyone in our community vaccinated? And, and maybe that is actually, government’s will think that needs more resources. Because maybe this is getting to the hard part. I think that’s beyond my level of expert expertise. But I think even the last few months, things have really been changing. And just getting that again. I think I mentioned for one reason why we were interested in this topic was we had seen a lot of discussion, especially the end of 2020 about the fiscal effects of COVID on government budgets. At the beginning of the pandemic, because of the economic recession accompanying it, it was, it looked really dire for both state and local governments. But there has been some analysis done subsequently that says, shows the effect on state budgets wasn’t as severe as expected. Certainly for some states, it was, but some states did not see the impact they are expecting. With the local governments, it’s much harder to conduct that analysis. You know, there’s only 50 state governments, there’s 10s, of 1000s of local governments and their tax bases are all very different from one another. And so I would, would love to ask more about kind of just the fiscal state for local governments, you know, what had they thought the effect would be now that they have a better sense of their revenue generation for the past year, what was it what they expected. And then I’d be really interested in knowing how that kind of how the fiscal state of a local government affects their planned future fund spending. So I know there are some local governments that were really affected, I think they’re very likely to fill that gap. And it’s great that there’s now stimulus funds that allow them to do that. I think for some governments, this could be an opportunity to really invest in their communities. And so that would be something I just want to get a sense of, you know, a few months later, now that the fiscal picture is a little clearer, now that the regulations are a little clearer, what would they think that they would spend funds for?

Lauren Palmer  41:45

Well, you got some great ideas there. I know, you’ve hit on a lot of questions that we’re grappling with in our region. Definitely, the supply for vaccine is starting to outpace demand much earlier than we had anticipated. And there’s lots of talk about shifting resources toward marketing and serving vulnerable and underrepresented populations to make sure that we can get that vaccine to everyone who needs it. And that’s a definitely a shift from where we were thinking at the beginning of the year. So I hope you will do some additional research, I look forward to seeing future results. And again, just a reminder for our listeners, take a look at the report on CivicPulse.org and see all the other research resources that they have available there. As we start to close out our podcast, I just want to thank you both again, so much for joining us. And our last question, Kevin, we’re gonna let you take this if you could be the Gov Love DJ, what song would you pick as our exit music for this episode?

Kevin Kearney  42:44

Perfect. So this is a great question. And thank you, Lauren for for inviting us. It’s been fun. As I mentioned in the beginning of the podcast is I have two young children at home. This oftentimes causes chaos in the house, but there’s also a lot of joys too. So after a long, stressful day at work, one of these joys is they like to blast the music and dance to it. Oftentimes pulling me into their dance circle too. And a song they like to play frequently ai Megan Trainer’s Better When I’m Dancing. And it’s just a reminder to me that through life’s complexities and stresses, especially in our pandemic era, life just better when we’re dancing.

Lauren Palmer  43:26

Well said. Such a great reminder, and I look forward to hearing that to close out our episode. before we sign off, again, I want to thank so much CivicPulse on our guests Michael Hotard at Kevin Kearney. And before we sign off we have some other exciting news. Tickets are now on sale for ELGL Pop Ups. Pop Ups are ELGL’s approach to regional learning and this year’s theme is honoring essential local government workers. The event is all virtual on May 21st. There are five regional agendas for you to choose from, or you can select an all access pass and attend them all. Sign up today at ELGLPopUps.com. Gov Love is produced by rotating cast of ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. You can reach us at ElGL.org/GovLove or on Twitter at @GovLovePodcast. Thanks for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.


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