COVID-19 Resources for Rural Communities
What are Federal Agencies Doing?
- The Department of Agriculture (USDA) has implemented a rigorous public health response to protect and care for our rural communities and farmers during this time of emerging health risk. They are working directly with the CDC and other federal partners to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak. USDA Rural Development has taken a number of immediate actions to help rural residents, businesses, and communities affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
What should community leaders do?
- Local elected officials are distinctly positioned to protect the health and safety of residents and to provide reassurance in times of crisis. The National League of Cities developed a Pandemic Response series to support cities, towns and villages during the COVID-19 outbreak and to take measures to reduce its spread.
- As municipalities are responding to the Coronavirus, they must:
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate! – Provide clear, accurate, reliable information to the public. Elected leaders can set a tone of transparency, compassion and reassurance, and bring in public health experts to provide broader context and deeper guidance. Local officials can assure the public that each person has a role to play to protect themselves, their families and their community.
- Coordinate, Coordinate, Coordinate! – Ensure efforts are underway across all city agencies to prepare and respond. Coordinate with county, state and federal government on emergency authority and response. Work with business and non-profit partners in the community to get employers, employees, residents and communities to follow everyday health practices to prevent spread, as well as to leverage public-private capacities for the wider community.
- Establish relationships and clarify roles with local health departments and healthcare facilities around pandemic flu plans and activation of emergency response. Identify specific people to communicate with, and the role of a Preparedness Coordinator or designee for emergency response.
- Clarify legal authority to declare emergency – Understand the Scope of Authority local executives have surrounding public health response plans and collaborate with the health department to implement the plan. Clarify authority if your city has both city and county health departments. When states declare an emergency, clarify potential release of funding and resources that may be indicated, including closing schools or prohibiting public gatherings.
- It is important to identify strategies for communicating and engaging with rural communities during emergency preparedness and response planning. Sharing key information through verbal or written means is important for a planned, coordinated, and appropriate response to an emergency or disaster. Resources for emergency communication:
- Emergency Preparedness and Response, Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) Manual and Tools and Templates are offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for Preparedness and Response
- Public Health Communications is available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response
- Rural Risk Communication Toolkit offers fillable templates and printed materials
- FEMA offers the Disaster Survivor Assistance Program, and provides a listing of emergency management agencies and offices.
How the CARES Act Applies to Rural Communities:
- Financial support in the form grants and direct funding has been made available:
- $9.5 billion for agricultural producers impacted by coronavirus, including specialty crop producers, local food system suppliers. This includes farmers markets, restaurants, schools, and livestock producers, including dairy farmers.
- $8.8 billion for Child Nutrition Programs, $15 billion for SNAP, $1 billion for food distribution
- $100 million for Assistance to Firefighter Grants to purchase PPE and related supplies
- $345 million for states and communities to respond to workforce impacts and layoffs
- Provides $150 billion to States, Territories, and Tribal governments to use for expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency with respect to COVID-19 in the face of revenue declines.
- Funding is allocated by population proportions, with a minimum of $1.25 billion for states with relatively small populations.
- $1.5 billion in CDC State and Local Preparedness grants for local response activities
- $3.5 billion in grants to provide immediate assistance to childcare providers
- $750 million for Head Start programs
- $1 billion in direct funding to community-based organizations to provide social services and emergency assistance
- $50 million to maintain essential air service to rural communities
- $5 billion in Community Development Block Grants for senior citizens, the homeless, and public health services
- Capital Relief for Community Banks
- The CARES Act temporarily reduces the Community Banking Leverage Ratio (CBLR) by one percent (from nine to eight percent) and allows the federal banking regulators to grant a “reasonable” grace period if any bank falls below that eight percent threshold. Today, banks are well-capitalized and strong. This change will allow community banks to deploy additional, needed capital to consumers and businesses through this time of crisis. The new standard will expire when the public health emergency ends, or by December 31, 2020, whichever comes first.
- Relief from Troubled Debt Restructuring (TDR) Disclosures
- The CARES Act temporarily suspends “generally accepted accounting principles” (GAAP) requirements for Troubled Debt Restructuring (TDR) classifications on loans. Many banks and credit unions are working with their customers to provide modifications to outstanding loans. These actions can strain bank and credit union balance sheets. This change will assure banks and credit unions that loan modifications resulting from coronavirus-related distress do not trigger a TDR classification or disclosure. This assurance will further incentivize banks and credit unions to exhaust all options to support consumers and businesses. This change will expire 60 days after the public health emergency ends
- Relief from Current Expected Credit Losses (CECL) Standard
- The CARES Act gives banks and credit unions the option to decide whether to comply with the new ill-advised accounting standard known as CECL. Banks and credit unions have raised concerns that the new requirements will result in reserve increases that tie up capital and correspondingly reduce the supply of available credit. Currently, smaller banks and credit unions are not required to comply with the standard until 2023. The provisions in the CARES Act will give larger banks the option to free up trapped capital and will allow banks and credit unions to extend additional loans to consumers and businesses. This change will expire when the public health emergency ends, or by December 31, 2020, whichever comes first.
- Debt Guarantee Authority
- The CARES Act allows the federal financial regulators to temporarily guarantee non-interest bearing accounts of banks and credit unions without a maximum guarantee limit. This will help reassure depositors that their deposits are safe at any amount, which is especially relevant for companies’ payroll operations. This authority will expire on December 31, 2020.