How Cities Can Get Federal Funds for COVID-19


Maksim Pecherskiy and Julian Benabides

April 23, 2020

The federal government is making over 2 trillion dollars available through the CARES act. Of this, around $150 billion will be made available to states. You can see how much each state will receive here. We compiled a few resources to help you navigate the process of getting some of this money for your city.

Let's talk about money and how cities can get it

  • Each state will receive a minimum of $1.25 billion, which will be prorated by population.
  • State governments and local governments serving a population of at least 500,000 can apply for funds directly from the Treasury.
  • Local governments with a population under 500,000 must receive funds through their state.
  • It is advised that local governments with a population below 500,000 begin communicating with their Municipal League and their City/County Management Association as soon as possible.


The federal allocated $4 billion allocated for homeless assistance through the Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG). Eligible uses include emergency shelter operations, street outreach, expanded staffing, and other services to protect homeless and at-risk populations from COVID-19. Please check out the Homelessness Programs Toolkit for further information.You can learn about applying for HUD grants here.


Assistance from FEMA is available, if your city didn’t receive funding from the HHS/CDC or other federal agency. Under the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, FEMA may provide funds for:

  • Management, control, and reduction of immediate threats to public health and safety
  • Emergency medical care
  • Medical sheltering
  • Purchase and distribution of food, water, ice, medicine, and other consumable supplies, to include personal protective equipment and hazardous material suits movement of supplies and persons.

You can check out this fact sheet about FEMA grants: Procurement Under Grants Conducted Under Exigent or Emergency Circumstances


Nearly $850 million has been allocated for the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) Program. The funding is intended to be used for overtime, equipment, hiring, medical supplies, training, travel expenses, and addressing the medical needs of inmates in jails and detention centers.


The US Conference of mayors released this information on the City Fiscal Tracker and Federal Reimbursement Initiative, including a webinar, a municipal guide, and a FAQ sheet.

The municipal guide will be very useful to cities, as it provides an in-depth review of the application process, eligibility, and critical issues to consider. They even provide a checklist at the bottom of the document, some of which suggests:

  • Flatten the fraud, waste and theft curve. Estimates are that 10% of the total aid could be lost, instead of going toward things people in your city need.
  • Select and empower a senior multi-disciplinary team to be the central gatekeepers onyour city’s response; assembling data citywide, holding daily internal briefings.
  • Staff your citywide response team, and draw from your agencies, i.e., OMB, Emergency Management, Health, Procurement, Law, Intergovernmental, Administrative Services, Finance, Construction, IT.
  • Know the emergency declaration period; it is the time-frame that frames your eligibility for benefits and reimbursements.

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)

The CARES Act authorizes a $5 billion allocation to the CDBG program for provision of services for senior citizens, the homeless, and public health services to address COVID-19.

Available Funds put together a list of over 500 funds to help out during the coronavirus. You can check and see if your city is eligible for some financial aid there.

A Guide to Using Funds Effectively

This excellent guide from Mckinsey suggests steps city leaders can consider to ensure maximum impact from federal aid.

Assign leaders to spur accountability and improve transparency
  • Appoint a relief and recovery lead to coordinate across state and local agency officials. This appointee is often a deputy chief of staff or chief operating officer.
  • Establish a response lead in each agency to manage the response (including federal-agency interaction) for the department. This leader is often a deputy commissioner or secretary.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
  • Build a simple, one-stop web portal with clear, up-to-date links to state and federal resources (overseen by the relief and recovery lead mentioned above) for individuals, businesses, and community organizations seeking information.
  • Establish a hotline to support agencies in addressing questions related to relief funds.
  • Require agencies to submit citizen outreach strategies to reach relevant segments such as loan recipients eligible for relief.

Thank you for looking through our blog. We hope the resources provided were helpful. If you have resources you’d like to add, please email me and we’ll update our blog. If you’d like to join our community of city leaders, please consider joining UrbanLeague.

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