BGR Urges Strong Planning and Accountability for Federal Relief Funds

• Bureau of Governmental Research


In this release, Handle with Care: Public Planning and Accountability Must Guide Spending of Federal Relief Funds, BGR offers guidance to government entities on harnessing the opportunities presented by unprecedented federal funding to spur recovery from the pandemic’s economic, fiscal and health impacts. These governments have substantial flexibility in spending the federal dollars, which creates a rare opportunity to address public needs without burdening taxpayers. But realizing the full potential of this one-time money will require policymakers to establish a prudent decision-making process with strong oversight mechanisms.

BGR developed its guidance based on its research on local government fiscal issues and its mission of promoting the effective use of public resources. BGR’s report library can provide additional context for policymakers and citizens on fiscal, budget and infrastructure issues, such as Orleans Parish tax revenues, drainage system funding and New Orleans budget trends.

BGR’s release focuses primarily on the City of New Orleans’ $388 million allocation because of its size – the largest among Louisiana’s parish and municipal governments. However, BGR’s recommendations generally apply to other government entities receiving federal aid through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), including school districts and the state government. The chart provides the breakdown of the $5 billion in direct aid for state, parish and municipal governments. Louisiana public schools will receive another $4 billion in federal aid, as described in the report.

Pie Chart of Federal Relief Funds for Louisiana State, Parish and Municipal Governments

Update (7/15/21): The Jefferson Parish Council has formed a task force to make recommendations to the parish government on using its American Rescue Plan Act funds to support parish services and investments in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. St. Tammany Parish government is pursuing its own planning process for its ARPA funds, with support from St. Tammany Corporation, the parish’s economic development organization.

Update (8/4/21): BGR participated today in a webinar hosted by Committee for a Better New Orleans on the American Rescue Plan relief funds. Click here for more information and to access BGR’s presentation.



In brief, BGR advises the City to develop an ARPA spending plan that:

  • Covers multiple years and includes options aligned with various economic recovery scenarios
  • Establishes spending priorities based on analysis of City and community needs
  • Maintains efficiencies achieved during the pandemic-related fiscal crisis
  • Identifies new efficiencies that would allow the City to redirect existing revenue
  • Prioritizes expenditures that evidence suggests will deliver effective outcomes
  • Compares the cost effectiveness of spending options

In addition, BGR calls for oversight and accountability measures to ensure relief spending delivers the desired results. These include:

  • Providing residents with the multi-year spending plans and regular updates
  • Managing relief payments through a dedicated fund to facilitate auditing and accountability
  • Alerting the public to proposed expenditures through an online City Council calendar
  • Providing sufficient detail and explanation for individual spending requests
  • Maintaining dashboards that track council appropriations and City expenditures and results
  • Monitoring, auditing and program evaluation by the Office of Inspector General


BGR’s release illustrates how policymakers should take a deliberate, strategic approach to deploying relief funds, and provide for meaningful public oversight. BGR makes the following recommendations to government entities receiving ARPA allocations:

  • Government administrators should:
    • Develop and regularly update a multi-year spending plan that shows the public how they intend to address underfunded needs that align with the aid’s permissible uses. The plan should prioritize expenditures addressing the most pressing needs and supported by evidence of their potential to produce effective public outcomes.
    • Establish public oversight mechanisms through online dashboards that track expenditures and results.
  • Legislative bodies and governing boards should:
    • Create an online calendar of upcoming ARPA expenditure proposals, review the proposals in their public meetings and maintain a dashboard of their appropriations.
    • Create a dedicated fund for the federal aid and require departments to submit supporting data and thorough explanations with all funding requests.
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