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Shining A Light on Federal Relief Programs

November 16, 2021

By Thomas P. DiNapoli, New York State Comptroller

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred the shortest recession in modern times, yet its impact on our country has been devastating: over 750,000 people died, steep job losses left many families without housing and food security, and government revenues fell suddenly, with some states suffering shortfalls greater than any since the Great Depression.

There’s no question federal support was necessary and appropriate to help states weather the crisis. The New York State Division of the Budget projects that more than $250 billion in federal pandemic assistance will flow to New Yorkers, including more than $44 billion going directly to the state and allocated through its budget.

Earlier federal aid packages focused on supporting the state and local pandemic response and providing emergency benefits to those in need. The American Rescue Plan (ARP), approved in March 2021, reauthorized many of these programs and provided critical fiscal relief to stabilize state and local governments, school districts and public transportation systems.
Federal guidance on use of ARP relief funds is broad. New York and other states have a tremendous opportunity to use these resources to ensure both an equitable recovery and a stronger long-term fiscal position.

But it is not enough for only the fiscal experts in government to understand the details of this federal aid. It is critical that states engage with the public and tell them how the money is being spent. The Office of the New York State Comptroller is taking on this responsibility.

The office has a deep commitment to transparency in government spending and providing New Yorkers and others with the information necessary to understand state finances and spending. In 2008 we launched Open Book New York, which provides searchable access to downloadable data on millions of state and local government records, including state contracts, state spending, local government data, and information on public authorities.
Our latest open data effort is a new online tool to monitor the state’s spending of federal recovery aid. The COVID-19 Relief Program Tracker, as it’s called, was launched in October and provides information on federal relief funds received during the pandemic and eight programs that offer targeted assistance to New Yorkers most severely impacted by COVID-19, including the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Homeowners Assistance Fund, Excluded Workers Fund, Child Care Services, and Small Business Recovery Programs.

Some programs will have funding fully disbursed in the current fiscal year, while others are spread out over multiple years. The dashboard explains each federal and state program, and how much has been received and spent to date. The data are updated monthly and will be expanded to include additional programs and spending details as new information becomes available. The data is also available for download.

New Yorkers can use the tool to see how federal aid is used. We’ve made it user-friendly and easy to navigate, with plain-language descriptions and simple displays of information that allow users to see how the state is performing in its duties to assist New Yorkers during the pandemic.

The historic level of federal funding right now requires scrutiny at all levels of government. Our job is to follow the money and ensure funds are used wisely and administered efficiently.

We hope this is a model other states can use as an example of needed government transparency. Too many folks are still struggling to pay their bills, find affordable childcare and keep their businesses afloat. For many, these relief programs are vital to achieve these goals in the short-term. Our job is to shine a light on these funding streams, so Americans don’t get left in the dark.