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How Were Underserved Communities Impacted by Pandemic Spending?

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We co-hosted a roundtable with the National Academy of Public Administration to examine the gaps with pandemic relief money reaching underserved communities. Panelists offered insights into how minorities and low-income families struggled to access relief programs, like Paycheck Protection Program loans, and to receive stimulus checks. These lessons can help the government understand how to ensure that underserved communities have equal access to critical relief dollars from the American Rescue Plan.

Here's who spoke

Joseph P. Mitchell, Moderator, Director of Strategic Initiatives and International Programs at the National Academy of Public Administration

Shena Ashley, Vice President of Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute

Andre Perry, Senior Fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution

Clarence Wardell III, Chief Data and Equitable Delivery Officer with the American Rescue Plan Implementation Team at the White House

John Friedman, Founding Co-Director of Opportunity Insights at Harvard University and a Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Brown University

Here's what they said

Experts highlighted why pandemic-relief payments took longer to get to underserved communities.

The government relied on existing systems and information—bank accounts, tax returns, and stable addresses—to deliver payments. Panelist Shena Ashley said that it is less common for minorities and low-income families to have bank accounts and to submit tax returns. As a result, “they had a much harder time accessing the benefits…and many of them still have missed out on benefits that they are eligible for,” she added. Ashley pointed to research that shows roughly four million children in low-income families may not receive the Child Tax Credit payments this year because the IRS doesn't have the information it needs. 

Panelists discussed how some relief programs weren’t designed with minority groups in mind.

Andre Perry talked about the Paycheck Protection Program, which gave businesses access to forgivable loans for payroll costs. Businesses had to apply through banks, a step that impacted Black-owned businesses, according to Perry. “If you know anything about business development in Black communities, you know we’re underbanked,” he said, adding “we could have started with the Black entrepreneur in mind, yet we didn’t.” 

Efforts are underway to make it easier to get pandemic relief to those who need it most.

Clarence Wardell said his team is “spending a lot of time…supporting folks, hands-on with enrollment.” He recognized the challenges underserved communities face, adding that, “the policy landscape has changed dramatically over the span of a year that even the most in-tune individual could have a very difficult time keeping up with what is available, who's eligible for what, when, where, and how."

States are working to make sure that American Rescue Plan funds are spent with an eye on equity.

John Friedman is a member of Rhode Island Foundation, a public-private partnership that developed guiding principles for leaders to consider when spending the $1 billion the state received from the American Rescue Plan. “The first guiding principle," said Friedman, "is to use funds to address the root causes and conditions of systemic inequalities based on race, gender, disability, economic status, and other historically marginalized or oppressed communities which predated and were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

This co-sponsored activity does not constitute or imply an endorsement of NAPA or any of its products or services by the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, or the United States government.

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