Frequently Asked Questions about spending Federal Dollars

A new FAQ is out for the overall regulations for spending of federal grant funds — Uniform Guidance found in 2 CFR 200 (and mirrors the regs from our HHS funder at 45 CFR 75). You can find the full text here, where over 140 questions are addressed, but let’s look at a few key ones over the next few posts.

Q-8. What is a risk-based framework that is used to alleviate compliance requirements? A risk-based framework is a critical component of a Federal awarding agency’s performance management framework, particularly as it relates to a Federal program. It helps identify risks that may affect advancement toward or the achievement of a project or sub-project’s goals and objectives. In addition, integrating risk management practices can assist Federal managers to determine an appropriate level of resources and time to devote to project oversight to monitor recipient progress and hold them accountable for good performance. A risk-based framework could also help Federal awarding agencies develop risk mitigation strategies emphasizing strong performance, and reprioritizing routine post award monitoring and oversight strategies. (See§200.102(d).)

If you haven’t looked at a process for identifying and responding to risks, you need to. When you identify risk you can monitor and mitigate those risks more easily. I suggest a risk management plan that includes compliance, safety and service provision risks, and may look a little like this.

Risk Management Plan worksheet:

Identified Risk  Current mitigating measuresWhat needs to be doneHow to monitor long term
         Someone is injured on the property Liability insurance
Safety postings around any work/wet surface
 Uneven surfaces repaired. A regular slip/fall inspection.
         Staff member sues for unfair bias. Staff training for all managers addressing bias, rights, justice. Require annual retraining. Designate a point person to discuss
issues as they arise
The chart for a risk management plan, with headings of Identified Risk, Current mitigating measures, What needs to be done and How to monitor long term.

While we usually suggest you “think positive”, for this process you and your leadership need to bring your disaster fantasies to the table. What are all the things that might go wrong and how can you reduce or remove the risk?

Digital Divide — how it effects people with disabilities and a May 12 date for applications to begin

A vibrant blue background of keys and rods with a plug pushing toward the rods.

Even the tech savvy among us are tired of video calls and email rather than in-person conversations, but let’s face it — we have made a shift in communication and we aren’t going back. My doctor routinely asks if I’d like a video appointment. We have apps for our favorite restaurants and are picking up food and eating at home. Center boards of directors have realized that video meetings provides equal access, and that the one or two who used to be in the background on a conference line are now full participants in the board meetings. Gaining access to vaccine appointments and necessary food have often been coordinated with on-line registration. Parents have learned that, like it or not, their children’s education also depends on broadband at least some of the time.

The CARES Act allowed centers to assist people with digital access to their services — remote Independent Living skills classes, face to face (peer support) calls, and as a bonus all the other digital access your community provides. CILs purchased or loaned tablets and laptops to consumers and were able to pay for some of their wireless bills. And CILs have realized that they can’t pay for this access long term, and something must be done to allow folks to continue to access their digital world. Centers who did not benefit from CARES Act and areas where their resources are spent are looking for other funding for consumers.

While it is not a complete answer to the digital divide, the FCC has announced an Emergency Broadband Benefit funded through the COVID-19 package passed in December. You can read the resulting announcement here. CILs can assist their consumers in knowing about and accessing this support, which is up to $50 a month, and $75 for households on qualifying Tribal lands. A one-time equipment discount of $100 is also available. There seems to be universal agreement that internet connectivity is essential these days. Let’s expand consumer knowledge about this new option.

This program is administered through local broadband providers, so individuals can go to their participating broadband provider directly and apply through them. Another choice is to go to GetEmergencyBroadband.org and apply there. It is also possible to visit fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit for a webinar that provides an overview, and to get other information. The ASL phone line is 844-432-2275

Your household qualifies for the Emergency Broadband Benefit if it has an income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines OR any member of the household:

  • Qualifies for Lifeline benefits through participation in SNAP, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance, or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit;
  • Participates in one of several Tribal specific programs: Bureau of Indian Affairs General Assistance, Tribal Head Start (only households meeting the relevant income qualifying standard), Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (Tribal TANF), Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020 with a total household income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers;
  • Received a federal Pell Grant in the current award year;
  • Received approval for benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, in the 2019-2020 or 2020-2021 school year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program, and that provider received FCC approval for its eligibility verification process.

Only one monthly service discount and one device discount is allowed per household. Program rules acknowledge there may be more than one eligible household residing at the same address.

Employee Retention Tax Credits are available Even If You Got PPP Loan(s)

This credit just got a whole lot better so don’t stop reading because you decided this credit was not valuable for you.

Calculator, ledger and pen with a big blue sticky notes saying TAX Credits.

First, if you have not applied for your PPP loan, projections are that that money will run out by the first week in May, so apply now if you qualify.

You can claim the Employee Tax Retention Credit even if you got PPP loans, but, you cannot claim a credit for the same payroll used for your PPP loan forgiveness.

IRS says (in notice 2021-23) that for the first two quarters of 2021, organizations are eligible if they have a decline in gross receipts of 20% or more in the first or second quarter of 2021 (compared to the same quarters in 2019) or are subject to a full or partial government ordered shutdown due to Covid 19. For employers that were not in existence during 2019, they would calculate whether there was a decline from the first two quarters of 2020.

The 2021 credit is 70% of the first $10,000 of each employee’s wages ($7000 per employee) per quarter.

Employers with under 500 employees can request advance payment of the credit, while others will use the credit as a reduction of the employment taxes they are required to pay.  IRS form 7200 is used to claim the advance payment. https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f7200.pdf Employers with over 500 employees will reduce the payroll taxes that they pay in quarterly.

The recently enacted American Rescue Plan extends the credit for the remainder of this calendar year, so there will be additional guidance from IRS on how this credit will apply on the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2021.

It is not too late claim the credit for 2020 if operations were fully, or partially suspended due to a government order or if your gross receipts in any quarter of 2020 were less than 50% of the same quarter in 2019. The 2020 credit is limited to 50% of up to $10,000 of wages, or a maximum of $5000 per employee per year. The 2020 credit also defined a small employer as one with 100 employees or less. For small employers all wages could count but for large employers, only salary continuation paid to employees who were not working could qualify.

So, if you looked at this credit before and said “nah”, look again. And if you decided that it was easier to apply for your PPP forgiveness using just payroll, think again because using less payroll and more other costs like rent will preserve more payroll for the Employer Retention Tax Credit.

You CAN continue spending CARES Act funds into next fiscal year!

On April 16, the Office of Independent Living Programs, Administration for Community Living, indicated they would provide a one-time, 12-month No Cost Extension automatically for some of its grants to Centers, specifically to the CARES Act and Independent Living Services (Part B) funds to centers. CIL funds (Part C) have not been extended. Please note this is breaking news and we may get more clarification as this unfolds.

Blocks of wood with letters and numbers spelling out BUDGET and then showing the years 2020, 2021, 2022.

This is described more specifically in the no-cost extension guidelines, and specifies the grants that are included are FFY2020 Independent Living Services Grants (ILSG): 2001XXILSG and Centers for Independent Living (CILs) CARES Act (ILC3): 20NNXXILC3.

A no-cost extension (NCE) allows a grantee to request additional time to extend the period of performance end date of a grant in order to complete the overall goals and performance outcomes originally proposed in the award funded by the Administration for Community Living. in this case the center’s one year extensions for CARES Act and ILS (Part B) funds are automatic, meaning no application is required. It is strongly recommended that each Center take the time to modify your budget to encompass these additional funds, spreading the remaining funds into next fiscal year if you wish. They still need to be spent for their original purpose, but you have a longer period of time to spend out the funds.

An important note about how this affects the CDC Vaccine funds. ACL indicated, “We understand that this information may change your CILs decision to pursue CDC Vaccine funds from decline to accept. If so please submit a new assurance indicating acceptance. The most recently received assurance will be the one ACL uses when awarding funds. As a reminder, the deadline to submit as assurance for those funds is 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on April 23, 2021.

Let me summarize the grant sources and the status:

  • Direct CIL grants (Part C) — No change in deadlines or other requirements
  • ILS Grants through the SPIL/DSE — No cost extension to September 30, 2022 applies
  • CARES Act Funds — No cost extension to September 30, 2022 applies
  • CDC Vaccine funds — Deadline for accepting or refusing grant is still April 23, 2021; funds may be used through September 30, 2022.

Are you ready for the increased costs of a financial compliance audit?

John Heveron gave you some tips a few weeks ago on preparing for your financial audit. Just a reminder — if you spent $750,000 or more in federal funds last fiscal year, or will this fiscal year, you are required to have this more extensive audit. Any year that you spend $750,000 in federal funds, this audit is required. For many centers, the CARES Act funding pushed them over that threshold.

Auditor and executive review financial information on a computer screen.
Auditor and executive review financial information on a computer screen.

But an astute CIL director asked me , “How can I afford those audit costs next year when CARES Act funds are gone?”

This is a good question. We cannot typically carry over funds to the next year with either Part C or CARES Act. What can we do to cover the audit expenses when we are back to our basic pre-COVID budgets? The “single audit” costs are required specifically because the CARES Act funds temporarily increased your income over this two-year period. So can the CARES Act pay their share of those costs? It doesn’t make sense for Part C to pay for costs generated by the CARES Act funds, does it? In fact I might argue that you CANNOT use a funding source to pay an expense incurred by a different project or cost objective.

You are allowed to pay for actual expenses of your federal grants after their closing date IF those costs were encumbered during the grant year (Prior to September 30, 2021 in this case.) Encumbered funds are monies that are intentionally set aside to pay for future obligated or planned expenses. Although encumbered funds are not released until the payment for the future expenses is due, the funds cannot be used for anything other than their specified purposes.

It seems allowable, to us, to develop a contract now for your single audit, to sign it prior to the end of the fiscal year. This would then encumber those dollars so that they cannot be used for any other purpose. You should be able to draw them down prior to December 31 and utilize them to pay the CARES Act portion of the audit expenses.

Remember that you still have to properly allocate all your shared expenses, including this audit, so your other grants will pay a share as well. If you have not had single audit/compliance audits in the past, you should meet with your auditor or another auditor qualified to do this and ask them to explain the process, including what they would expect from you, and tell you what their fee would be.

Let’s talk about the new funding focused on vaccination

You had until April 23, 2021 to submit a letter to ACL to indicate if you want the funds, or if you choose to decline them. The next task — how will you use those funds on COVID-19 vaccine efforts?

There is a new funding source available to Part C centers, as described in the Federal Register. This is a much smaller, much more narrow and focused opportunity than CARES Act. ACL/Office of Independent Living Programs provided an FAQ which we will disseminate as soon as it is available. The same regulations of the allowable activities under this CDC funding apply. The expenditures of the funds must be related to vaccines specifically, including:

  • Education about the importance of receiving a vaccine
  • Identifying people unable to independently travel to a vaccination site
  • Helping with scheduling a vaccine appointment
  • Arranging or providing accessible transportation
  • Providing companion/personal support
  • Reminding people of the second vaccination appointment if needed
  • Providing technical assistance to local health departments or other entities on vaccine accessibility

You probably noticed that all of these are also allowable under the CARES Act and in fact all of these have been repeatedly messaged by OILP as things CILs could be doing with CARES Act funds. This new money is not a supplement to the CARES Act but can provide supplemental funding for vaccine related costs.

All the same Federal rules around allowability are exactly the same as any other funding source. There, like for all Federal funding, will be reporting requirements (TBD), and grantees should expect to be able to track activities and expenses accordingly.

It appears total of $5 million in funds will be distributed equally between the centers that wish to access the funds.

What about the COVID-19 Vaccine funds will assist Part B centers?

As with the CARES Act funds, the new Vaccine Access funding from the CDC will be given to centers that are direct grantees (Centers for Independent Living funding through Part C of Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act) from ACL. They will not be available to sub-grantees receiving funds through the SPIL in your state (Independent Living Services funded through Part B of Title VII of the Rehabilitation Act).

But the good news is all centers can work with other entities in your service area who ARE receiving these funds. Check out this federal register post for how the ADRCs are to work with others. CILs/ILCs are listed right there in the grant application.

For you to receive some of these funds you will need to be named by your ADRC in their proposal — so there is no time to lose. You must AT LEAST have a phone conversation with them and ask to be included. Hopefully you can think first of the minimum amount of funding you need to reach all your consumers with vaccine assistance and request that amount. These funds can be used in a number of ways, including:

  • Education about the importance of receiving a vaccine
  • Identifying people unable to independently travel to a vaccination site
  • Helping with scheduling a vaccine appointment
  • Arranging or providing accessible transportation
  • Providing companion/personal support
  • Reminding people of the second vaccination appointment if needed
  • Providing technical assistance to local health departments and other entities on vaccine accessibility

Other local partners (linked to the Federal Register announcement when available) receiving these funds include:

So, Part B centers, Work with these partners and bring some of the necessary resources to your community to save the lives of those vulnerable people with disabilities to get immunized against COVID-19. And do it now — this funding is intended to be a quick response so the funds will be allocated shortly.

Three tools to conquer COVID

Payroll protection plan Part 3 is a two-month extension of Part 2, signed by the President today. If you didn’t apply for PPP in the original opportunity, you can check this article to see more details.

New funding from CDC, through ACL, will issue $5 million to the Part C Centers for Independent Living so you can provide assistance with scheduling vaccine appointments, transportation to vaccine sites, direct support services needed to attend vaccine appoints, connection to in-home vaccination options, and education about the importance of receiving the vaccine to older adults and people with disabilities. ACL will release along with guidance in the near future.

And really good news for Part B Independent Living Services programs – someone in your community is funded to do this vaccine work, and you can partner with them to make sure your communities benefit. The partners include:

  • State Units on Aging and Area Agencies on Aging ($50 million)
  • Aging and Disability Resource Centers (S26 million)
  • University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities ($4 million)
  • Protection and Advocacy systems  ($4 million)
  • State Councils on Developmental Disabilities ($4 million)

SILCs, if you addressed advocacy in emergencies in your SPIL, or have a goal for statewide collaboration, you may be a key partner with your centers that only get Part B in making sure another provider in your state serves those areas and people that would otherwise not have funding.

Stay tuned for more news as it breaks.

ACL Releases Updated Version of the CARES Act Funding FAQ

Three colorful conversation bubbles stating Frequently, Asked, Questions

The Centers that are direct grantees through ACL received CARES Act funding about a year ago that has assisted them in meeting the COVID-19 related needs of their communities. ACL has just released its most resent set of Frequently Asked Questions related to the proper use of those funds. You can find that new FAQ at https://acl.gov/COVID-19 It is the first item listed under What’s New (February 23 – March 17)

The content includes the prior FAQ and nine additional questions along with a number of links to helpful information, growing the document from six pages to nine. I have found it helpful to read and re-read this guidance to make sure CARES Act decisions are made in line with these items. At the end of the day your CIL is responsible for the proper use of all its funds, including this additional money to assist individuals with significant disabilities to be safe and healthy during these times. Here is the summary from ACL:

As we continue to discuss CARES Act funding, ACL is pleased to announce that an updated version of the CARES Act FAQ is available and is attached for your reference. It can also be found at https://acl.gov/COVID-19 under the heading of Guidance for ACL Programs and sub-heading of Independent Living programs.

Within this document, you will find several areas which have been addressed.

  • Questions 22-23 comment on the utilization of multiple funding sources and record requirements.
  • Questions 24-25 go into detail on equipment/capital improvements and audit costs.
  • Questions 26-29 describe recommendations post CARES Act, including strategies and examples of funding usage.
  • Page 9 provides valuable resources and links for additional information on use of CARES act funds.

As always, please reach out to me with any questions.

Sean Barrett, Team Lead | Office of Independent Living Programs,Administration for Community Living  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

330 C Street, SW. Washington DC 20201 | 202.795.7397 | www.acl.gov

IL-NET National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Independent Living

ILRU’s IL-NET National Training and Technical Assistance Center for Independent Living provides timely and responsive technical assistance (TA) to centers for independent living (CILs) statewide independent living councils (SILCs), and (related to Independent Living Programs) designated state entities (DSEs).

  • For general questions about finding resources or trainings or being added to our email lists to receive updates on upcoming training activities, please contact ILRU at ilru@ilru.org or at 713-520-0232.
  • For more specific questions related to the needs of your organization or improving operational excellence, attend Technical Assistance Office Hours with Paula McElwee — Third Thursday of each month from noon to 2:00 p.m. Eastern. For more immediate assistance, contact the IL-NET Associate Director of Technical Assistance, Paula McElwee, at paulamcelwee.ilru@gmail.com or 559-250-3082 (Pacific time).

For Centers for Independent Living (CILs):

  • ILRU offers peer group technical assistance discussions at 3pm Eastern for:
    • Executive Directors – Second Monday of each month
    • Assistant Directors, Program Managers, or Middle Managers – Second Tuesday of each month
    • CIL Financial Managers – scheduled quarterly
  • For one-on-one technical assistance, contact the IL-NET Associate Director, Technical Assistance, Paula McElwee, at paulamcelwee.ilru@gmail.com or 559-250-3082 (Pacific time).

For Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILCs):

  • ILRU offers peer group technical assistance discussions at 3pm Eastern for:
    • SILC staff and members (called SILCSpeak) – First Thursday of each month
    • Designated State Entities (DSEs) – scheduled quarterly
  • For one-on-one technical assistance, contact the IL-NET Technical Assistance Coordinator, Paula McElwee, at paulamcelwee.ilru@gmail.com or 559-250-3082 (Pacific time).

Peer-to-Peer Mentoring

  • Peer mentoring is a specific form of individualized training assistance that matches CIL or SILC peers with peers from other CILs or SILCs to offer focused assistance with management and program issues. Peer mentoring offers an opportunity for CIL or SILC staff to strengthen operations or programs by learning from experienced colleagues. Please fill out this short survey if you are interested in learning more about:
    • Becoming a mentor and working with an organization to grow their programs or learn how to better run their organization.
    • Receiving a mentor to assist with growing a program or improving operations.

Technical assistance provided by the Southwest ADA Center: