Connecting state and local government leaders
The call center, which fielded 300 calls and about 2,000 emails a week before it was shut down, provided governments with assistance on the handling of various pandemic-related programs.
States and cities are once again able to get the support they need when it comes to following the complex rules set by Congress for Covid recovery money.
The Department of the Treasury on Tuesday reopened a popular call center that provided assistance to state and local governments on the handling of various pandemic-related programs after being forced to shut it down in October when the agency ran out of money.
“This is a huge win for all cities, towns and villages. The process for filing an annual report, required of more than 26,000 [Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds] grantees, can be complicated and overwhelming to municipal staff unfamiliar with federal filings,” the National League of Cities said in a recent blog post.
The closing of the “help desk,” which fielded 300 calls and about 2,000 emails a week, was a blow to states and localities. The questions ranged from complex inquiries about what projects would be eligible for funding under which programs, to more routine matters like how to change the contact person for local governments.
The lack of funds also prevented Treasury officials from reaching out proactively to local governments, and reduced its capacity to monitor recipients and conduct compliance testing of reporting data, a Treasury official said at the time.
To not have the help available is “worrisome for a lot of communities, particularly those who have never managed federal grants before,” Irma Esparza Diggs, the senior executive and director of federal advocacy for the National League of Cities, told Route Fifty last year.
But after lobbying by local governments, Congress was able to get funding included in the $1.7 billion omnibus spending bill in December to reopen the call center.
“Communities from across the country are using Treasury’s recovery funds to address local needs—whether by strengthening public health, building new affordable housing, investing in their workforce, or supporting small businesses,” said Jacob Leibenluft, the Treasury Department's chief recovery officer, in a statement to Route Fifty. “Reopening Treasury’s Office of Recovery Programs Contact Center will increase our ability to communicate directly with and provide guidance to state, local, and Tribal governments as they make these investments—a line of communication which will be especially beneficial to small and rural communities.
The Treasury Department is still recommending that states and localities consult a series of Q&As the agency put out late last year before calling or emailing for help. Questions can be sent by email to SLFRF@treasury.gov or by calling (844) 529-9527.
Kery Murakami is a senior reporter for Route Fifty.