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CARES Act: Helping public sector agencies understand COVID-19 relief and recovery funding

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Todd Krautkremer

CARES Act: Helping public sector agencies understand COVID-19 relief and recovery funding

By Todd Krautkremer & Strategies 360

The worldwide spread of COVID-19 and the attendant public health and economic crises are challenging our society in ways most of us could not have conceived of just months ago. Healthcare, first responders, and education organizations are just a few of the sectors that are having to reimagine and reengineer how they do their work and continue to effectively serve the public under these unusual and stressful circumstances.

In so doing, these organizations are turning to wireless cellular as a means of upgrading or overhauling their network infrastructure. A wireless cellular network connection enables greater agility, with solutions that can flex and scale as your plans evolve, or as the need for adapting to rapidly evolving circumstances emerges. Such an approach allows you to connect numerous devices and locations with a streamlined and speedy deployment that ultimately lessens IT requirements while increasing centralized IT control, thereby alleviating pressure on your IT support teams.

Cradlepoint stands ready to assist public agencies as they look for new and adapted ways of performing their vital role to protect and serve their communities. We can help you to quickly and easily establish secure, LTE-based wireless networks for healthcare, emergency services, or education—wherever and whenever it’s needed. See how our solutions can be rapidly deployed in response to the pandemic on our COVID-19 page. There you’ll find use cases, webinars, and videos—everything from how to provide Internet access to students in their neighborhoods to how to set up pop-up connectivity at a temporary healthcare center.

We believe it’s imperative to support our customers, partners, and interested organizations to understand how wireless network solutions can support drive-up testing facilities, mobile health clinics, and online learning. We believe it is also essential to assist public agencies with budgetary constraints in potentially accessing federal assistance and relief funds to support their efforts in a time of crisis.

With elected officials in the nation’s capital furiously scrambling to help contain the health and economic crises, Congress and federal agencies are playing a pivotal role in shaping how solutions that enable the rapid and secure deployment of fixed site and mobile networks based on 4G LTE and 5G will be extensively utilized during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Responding to the immediate and long-term challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, S. 3548, also known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, allocated a total of $2.2 trillion to federal agencies, small businesses, and individuals. While some of this money is dedicated exclusively to telecommunications and connectivity-related uses—specifically e-learning, telemedicine, and rural broadband—there are ample opportunities to support the vital services provided by a wide array of public agencies and emergency service providers.

One of the most expensive pieces of legislation ever enacted in the U.S., the CARES Act, was signed into law by President Trump on March 27. The bill, at nearly 250 pages, is dense and complex. Below, we break it down for you with a sampling of appropriations and programs, highlighting potential implications for your organization or community in accessing funding for vital services, equipment, and advanced communications capabilities and solutions.

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES

Health System Capacity: The bill allocates $275 million to the Public Health and Social Service Emergency Fund to increase health system capacity through specific programs and rural health initiatives. Of that money, $180 million would be transferred to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to carry out telehealth and rural health initiatives outlined in the bill.

Indian Health Service: An additional $1 billion allocated for surveillance, testing capacity, community health representatives, public health support, telehealth, Purchased/Referred Care and other health service activities necessary to meet the increased need for services and to protect the safety of patients and staff. These amounts include up to $65 million for emergency health record (EHR) stabilization and support.

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

Governor’s Education Emergency Relief Fund

Congress set aside approximately $3 billion of the $30.75 billion allotted to the Education Stabilization Fund for the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEERF). The Department will award these grants to states (governor’s offices) based on a formula stipulated in the legislation—1) 60% based on the state’s relative population of individuals ages 5 through 24, and 2) 40% based on the state’s corresponding number of children counted under section 1124(c) of the elementary and secondary education act of 1965 (ESEA).

Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund

Congress also set aside approximately $13.5 billion of the $30.75 billion allotted to the Education Stabilization Fund for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund). The Department will award these grants ¬to State educational agencies (SEAs) to provide local educational agencies (LEAs), including charter schools that are LEAs, with emergency relief funds to address the COVID-19 impact. Funds to local districts are for coronavirus-response activities, such as purchasing educational technology to support online learning for all students and additional activities authorized by federal elementary and secondary education laws.

Higher Ed Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF)

The CARES Act provides $14.25 billion to states for institutions of higher education to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. Funds are to defray expenses for institutions of higher education, such as lost revenue, technology costs associated with a transition to distance education, and grants to students for food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and childcare.

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

Medical services: $14.4 billion will go to support increased demand for healthcare services at VA facilities and through telehealth, including the purchase of medical equipment and supplies, testing kits, and personal protective equipment. Funding also enables VA to provide additional support for vulnerable veterans as well as within VA-run nursing homes and community living centers.

Information technology: $2.15 billion will go to support increased telework, telehealth, and call center capabilities to deliver healthcare services directly related to coronavirus and mitigate the risk of virus transmission, including the purchasing of devices, as well as enhanced system bandwidth and support.

DEPT. OF HOMELAND SECURITY

FEMA: The agency is receiving $45 billion for a Disaster Relief Fund for the immediate needs of the state, local, tribal and territorial governments to protect citizens and help them respond and recover from the overwhelming effects of COVID-19. Reimbursable activities may include medical response, personal protective equipment, National Guard deployment, coordination of logistics, safety measures, and community services nationwide.

FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION

COVID-19 Telehealth Program

This program provides $200 million for immediate support to health care providers responding to COVID-19 by supporting eligible health care providers to purchase telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to enable the provision of telehealth services during the pandemic. This program provides support to purchase new gadgets to engage patients and can provide selected applicants with full funding for eligible telehealth services and devices.

Connected Care Pilot Program

This pilot program makes available up to $100 million, to be separate from the budgets of the existing universal service fund programs and the COVID-19 telehealth program. This three-year pilot provides comprehensive service support to help defray health care providers’ qualifying costs of providing connected care services. It targets funding to eligible health care providers, with a primary focus on pilot projects that would primarily benefit low-income or veteran patients. The program funds selected pilot projects, covering 85% of the eligible costs of broadband connectivity, network equipment, and information services. These services are necessary to provide connected care services to the intended patient population, as well as expenses incurred by low-income patients and veterans access telehealth technology.

U.S. Election Assistance Commission

The CARES Act included $400 million in the new Help America Vote Act (HAVA) emergency funds. These funds are available to states to allow them to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus and its impact on the 2020 federal election cycle. The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has broken down the CARES funds by state and has provided resources for guidance on the use of the HAVA funds for expenses related to COVID-19. Allowable uses include additional laptops and mobile IT equipment.

PRESIDENTIAL DISASTER DECLARATION

In addition to the CARES Act, various monies were made available to the states via the President’s March 13 emergency declaration for all states, tribal governments, territories, and the District of Columbia. These government entities and specific private non-profit organizations are eligible to apply for Public Assistance. Under the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, FEMA can assist with emergency protective measures like Emergency Operation Center costs, emergency medical care (including emergency medical transport and temporary medical facilities). Especially when existing facilities are forecasted to become overloaded in the near-term), security and law enforcement, search and rescue to locate and recover members of the population requiring assistance.

Since the pandemic started, Cradlepoint has enabled test centers, clinics, public safety agencies, teachers and students, and enterprises to remain connected and effective, everywhere from field hospitals to tents, parking lots, and homes. Our operations teams have put processes in place so that we can ship and activate our solutions for first responders and healthcare professionals within 24 hours. We’re continuing to develop use cases and how-to videos to help people on the front lines of this crisis get their wireless networks up and running in minutes. Check out our COVID-19 resources and let us know how we can help.

For first responder agencies, consider taking advantage of Cradlepoint’s FirstConnect grant assistance program for all public safety agencies. The program is free of charge to Cradlepoint state and local law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency medical services customers.

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