Global Impact on State and Local Budgets

by Ishara Nanayakkara

In March, Moody’s Analytics released an analysis of the ways global events affect state and local economies, especially in terms of tax revenue. Much of the following information relies on that analysis (“Ukraine, Russia, and State & Local Budget,” by Dan White).

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, state and local governments have received federal assistance in the billions of dollars. Pandemic relief increased the portion of state government revenue coming from federal dollars to 36%, the highest level on record. Federal funds were the largest source of revenue in 18 states, up from four states one year ago. This has created a state and local government spending environment at a level almost 10% higher than before the pandemic, the fastest pace of increased spending in over 20 years.

States also are adjusting revenue forecasts in response to uncertainty created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Revenue Forecast

Most states rely heavily on sales taxes for revenue. Since these taxes are generally assessed as a percentage of purchase prices, the high rate of inflation should spur increased tax revenues. Inflation is forecast to raise sales tax collections by over 4%. In particular, states in which economies are driven by energy and agriculture (especially wheat production) will benefit. However, to provide relief to consumers, many states are considering gas tax holidays, which will reduce tax revenue.

Local governments will also see increased property tax revenues due to substantial property value increases in many parts of the country. Tax valuation usually lags market price increases by six to eight quarters, so the rapid rise in property values has not yet been fully reflected in assessed valuations. Experts predict that property values will level off or decrease in 2022, but local governments will reap the benefits of current escalated values for some time. Urban-centered governments are an exception to this prediction. They will likely see a decreased tax base because they are more reliant on commercial real estate, which decreased in value during the pandemic. 

Consumer behavior also influences potential gains in tax revenue. Spending habits may change due to increasing prices and a recent interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve. However, household bank balances are currently at the highest level ever recorded due to the stimulus payments sent out over the past two years. This may counteract the downward pressure on spending caused by inflation and interest rate increases.

During the 2022 legislative sessions, policymakers may see the windfall as a one-time occurrence, therefore gravitating toward one-time investments (such as capital infrastructure). But because inflation has increased the cost of such projects (in some cases dramatically), there will be some incentive to use existing funds for recurring projects. “State and local governments are some of the largest consumers in the country,” according to Moody’s, and their spending habits will also be affected. The greatest impact will come from the rising cost of infrastructure and transportation construction projects.

State and Local Government Inputs

Accounting for inflation, net spending is less than 1% higher than it was before the pandemic. Workforce shortages further limit the impact of newly available funds — there are more than 700,000 vacant government jobs at the state and local levels. This is the “lowest number of state and local government employees in the U.S. since 1986,” adjusting for population, as states have only been able to regain half the jobs lost during the pandemic. In the past 12 months, approximately three million employees have left their public sector jobs, and resignation rates remain at record highs. This quandary exists in an environment where the labor market is very tight, with unemployment rates well below 4%. Inflation and rising prices exacerbate the challenge of public sector hiring as wages are usually lower than private sector roles. Baseline forecasts predict that this will hinder “government payrolls from regaining pre-pandemic levels” for several years.

Uncertainty

As a result of these uncertain times, a variety of factors remain undetermined. Due to rising incomes during the pandemic, income tax payments in 2022 are expected to be significantly higher and withholding is expected to expand, but this boost may be mitigated by potentially slower levels of hiring in the coming months.

The impact of capital markets is harder to predict. According to Moody’s, “Most major U.S. equity indexes have already entered correction territory,” which occurs when an index drops from 10 to 20% after a recent peak. Events in Europe will complicate market behavior, potentially for several months or years. If reduced production of consumer goods in Ukraine and Russia continues and economic sanctions remain in place for an extended period, the “outlook for the U.S. economy and subsequently state and local government fiscal conditions could be much darker.”

The White House Convening of Equity

By Ben Reynolds

Under the directive of the Biden administration’s Executive Order 13985, federal agencies developed Equity Action Plans, which focus on incorporating equity in to their mission deliveries. These plans involve strategies federal agencies are using to embed equitable practices in their day-to-day operations through eight areas of equity improvement identified. Several areas are highlighted below. Find out more about the plans here.

One common way federal agencies are incorporating equity is by adding equitable program designs and requiring equity to be a part of competitive grants.    

Economic Justice

The Department of Treasury is working to ensure underserved communities are receiving mission-driven capital. The Final Rule for the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund contains strong equity provisions to address the needs of communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic and address pre-existing disparities. States are required to report how they plan to incorporate equity in their spending plans. Treasury also issued program guidance to eligible states, Tribal communities and territories to present plans for expanding access to capital for underserved communities and to expend funds for businesses owned by Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Individuals.

The Department of Commerce will intentionally design programs and Notices of Funding Opportunities using equitable program designs. Programs are intended for partnering with different government and external parties to reach communities of color and rural communities. Commerce, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, works to expand universal access through state and community level broadband grants.

Advancing Equity in K-12 Education

The Department of Education requires states and school districts to use diverse and inclusive community engagement when developing plans on how to utilize federal funding. Education also provides guidance and technical assistance to help educators meet the needs of all students, especially those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The commitment to investing in under-resourced public institutions and supporting schools to raise completion rates for underserved students was re-emphasized.

Environmental Justice

The Environmental Protection Agency will develop a comprehensive framework and utilize community science and research to determine how to ensure underserved communities are receiving project awards. The Department of Energy is improving access to its Weatherization Assistance Program for low-income persons.  

Health Equity

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated pre-existing disparities in health outcomes and health care delivery. The Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) is committed to advancing health equity for underserved communities. HHS is working with states to extend postpartum coverage in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program to address the increase in pregnancy and postpartum morbidity. Equity considerations also are being added to HHS’s Notice of Funding Opportunities when considering grant applications.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is also expanding equitable assistance to nutrition programs. The USDA will be working to reduce barriers and increase the current 57% of eligible individuals participating in Women, Infants, and Children nutrition programs, as well as investing at least $100 million in partnerships with technical assistance providers that serve underserved communities.

Housing Justice and Community Investment

Federal agencies are strengthening their roles in combatting discriminatory housing, transportation and community investment policies. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is widening the procurement system to help sustain, build and retain individual and community wealth. The department is also incorporating equity requirements in its Notice of Funding Opportunities for competitive grants and will expand resources to grantees to advance equity.   

To ensure equitable access in transportation investments, the Department of Transportation will be advancing equity when awarding competitive grants.

The Department of Commerce is administering approximately $50 billion in grants to broadband infrastructure deployment. Commerce will focus its investments on communities that have lagged in the modern digital economy and implement equitable program design in the Notification for Funding Opportunities.

Federal agencies are also working to ensure equity in criminal justice, civil rights and global equity.

Full details of the Agency Equity Plans can be found at whitehouse.gov/equity.

Southern Pulse Newsletter, April 2022

April showers have not dampened our stride here at CSG South. The early spring months are making way for summer heat as the clock blazes nearer to our annual Southern Legislative Conference in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma! If you have not registered already, the time is now – early bird registration ends May 26. To register for SLC, please follow this link. To look at the brochure, including the schedule of events and important deadlines, please visit here.

While we continue to process registrants and fine-tune events for the Annual Meeting, state visits are still fully underway! This month, the CSG South team flew to mighty Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the “modern gateway” itself and 2022 host of the SLC, Oklahoma, to meet with members to discuss their concerns, field policy requests, and connect with newly elected officials.

In truth, a large part of our work during state visits is grounded in those very policy research requests members like you have for our team, and we love to dive right in! Since January 1, our policy analysts have received nearly 100 information requests, ranging from creative solutions to addressing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, tax cuts/reforms, to policy solutions to mitigate workforce shortages. We encourage all members to leverage our extensive network and internal expertise – during and after – your legislative sessions.
 
As always, we thank you for your continued hard work representing your constituents, and we wish you the best of luck in the busy weeks ahead.

Southern Pulse, April 2022

The post Southern Pulse Newsletter, April 2022 appeared first on CSG South.

MIC3 CELEBRATES APRIL AS THE MONTH OF THE MILITARY CHILD

MEDIA RELEASE

CONTACT:
Stephanie Ramsey                
859-244-8068
[email protected]

LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3) will “Purple Up! For Military Kids” on April 20, 2022. A survey released from the Military Child Education Coalition reports that there are an estimated 1.65 million military-connected children enrolled in schools in the United States and abroad.

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger first designated April as the Month of the Military Child, acknowledging the significant role military-connected students play in our communities. In 2011, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Military Youth and Family Program started the “Purple Up! for Military Kids” as a way for communities to thank military children for their strength and sacrifice. On a specific day designated during the Month of the Military Child, communities throughout each state join together and wear the color purple to honor our military children.  Purple represents the joint service operations and is a combination of Army green, Marine Corps red, and Coast Guard, Air Force, and Navy blue; it is the appropriate color to represent military children from all branches.

“During the month of April, we honor our military children,” said Laura Anastasio MIC3 Chairman and Connecticut Compact Commissioner. “We acknowledge that they must adapt and overcome the hardships of transitioning due to the multiple moves they must make while serving alongside their families. This month is our opportunity to celebrate their strength, courage, and resiliency as well as to show our deep appreciation for their sacrifices.”

Developed by The Council of State Governments National Center for Interstate Compacts, the U.S. Department of Defense, national associations, federal and state officials, state departments of education, school administrators and military families, the MIC3 is a quasi-governmental entity operating under the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. With 50-member states and the District of Columbia, the Compact ensures the uniform treatment of military-connected children transferring between states who enroll in public and U.S. Department of Defense schools.

For more information, visit www.mic3.net.

###

Veterans Treatment Court Discretionary Grant Program funding available to states

By Trey Delida

The Bureau of Justice Assistance announced recent funding opportunities for states regarding veterans’ treatment courts. Funding will be distributed through competitive grants from the Veterans Treatment Discretionary Grant Program, administered by the Department of Justice, which provides grants and technical assistance to implement or enhance programs for veterans in the criminal justice system. For the 2022 fiscal year, $29 million is available to eligible applicants across the nation.

Through this grant opportunity, states have the chance to create or improve upon already existing resources to support drug court programs and systems for eligible veterans in the criminal justice system. The Office of Justice Programs, a federal agency aimed at strengthening the criminal justice system, oversees the funding process for VTC programs. State leaders can direct residents to the OJP Grant Application Resource Guide to help them determine eligibility and navigate the application process. Applicants must register in and submit the SF-424 and the SF-LLL through grants.gov and the full application including attachments using JustGrants.

Once an organization has determined if they are eligible for OJP funding, further assistance may be needed for the application process. There are several funding opportunities available through OJP and some contain program solicitations or modifications. The applicant resource hub provides an overview of resource guides, templates, checklists and a step-by-step introduction to the OJP grant process.

Veterans Treatment Courts are designed to address substance abuse cases and mental health disorders among our country’s military veteran communities. Many of these issues can be connected to the trauma of combat. The programs work similarly to drug courts, combining a treatment-focused approach with personal accountability to rehabilitate struggling individuals. Since 2008, several states have taken legislative action to establish VTC’s or similar legislation within their state court systems.

The application process is competitive and the period to apply expires on May 25.

Potential Impact for States: The Latest in Colliding Federal Initiatives

Two Biden administration initiatives related to the COVID-19 pandemic have collided in Congress.

Last week, the administration announced it would end enforcement of Title 42 (of the Public Health Services Law) by May 23. Implemented by the Trump Administration in the early months of the pandemic, Title 42 allows the federal government to suspend entry of individuals into the U.S. during a public health emergency. Among other things, Title 42 has allowed the federal government to return immigrants to their country of origin pending review of requests for asylum (in the absence of the emergency declaration, individuals seeking asylum can remain in the U.S. during review).

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives have urged the White House not to do so, fearing a dramatic increase in immigration, particularly on the southern border.

At the same time, the Biden administration has requested additional funds for COVID-19 relief and recovery. The original ask was for $22.5 billion, focused on vaccination and testing, as well as preparations for new variants. Senate negotiators reached a tentative agreement earlier this week on a $10 billion package. The hope was to bring the package quickly to the floor for passage prior to Congress’ recess that begins Friday.

Over the last 24 hours, however, members of the Senate have declared opposition to a vote on the COVID-19 package unless there also is a vote on an amendment that would keep Title 42 in place. As a result, no vote has been scheduled.

State Governments Can Help Residents Secure Tax Credits

By Dakota Thomas

State governments can play a critical role in helping their residents get the tax credits they are entitled to receive. Those credits can have a substantial impact in the lives of the individuals and families that need them.  Putting more money into the pockets of families also helps state and local economies by creating demand for goods and services.  The federal government is working with states to reach out to potentially eligible tax credit recipients, especially the child tax credit (CTC) and earned-income tax credit (EITC). 

In a webinar hosted by the White House, a panel of speakers representing various stakeholders emphasized the importance of both “first mile” assistance, meaning outreach and educational efforts, as well as follow up assistance once a person begins the process. The first mile generally involves outreach to make people aware of the potential tax credits and helping determine their eligibility.  Several states have experimented with text message campaigns using lists of possibly eligible residents who are using other programs (e.g. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP) and there is preliminary evidence of success with that approach. 

State leaders can direct residents to childtaxcredit.gov to help them find out if they are eligible and how to apply. States can track whether residents are accessing this information portal by using their state’s unique URL based on their state postal abbreviation. For example, Georgia’s is www.ChildTaxCredit.gov/GA and Washington’s is www.ChildTaxCredit.gov/WA. States also can partner with Code for America to get help conducting outreach: https://airtable.com/shrnyXVEar34xYEB0

Once an individual has learned about the tax credits and determined they are eligible, they may still need further assistance.  For example, many Americans do not actually need to file tax returns, but may still be eligible for tax credits.  For “non-filers,” accessing credits is more difficult as they do not interact with the tax system regularly. To help non-filers, the federal government has set up a non-filer portal: https://www.getctc.org/en More information is available from the webinar:

How the Pandemic has Changed State and Local Government

Two years after the nation first declared a state of emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, very few aspects of American — and global — life remain untouched by the health crisis and related fallout. State leaders are dealing with new and challenging issues. State budgets are experiencing influxes of federal dollars, and policymakers are left to navigate uncharted waters.

It’s a given that the pandemic has changed state and local government — but in what ways? The Council of State Governments Chief Advancement Officer Maggie Mick was invited to sit down with C-Suite Blueprint Radio to discuss her take on these changes.

To gain additional perspectives, Mick reached out to the recipients of the 2021 CSG 20 Under 40 Leadership Award — young leaders in state government who show a willingness to work across the aisle on influential state policy — to ask how they felt things had changed.

Listen to Maggie Mick’s take on how the pandemic has changed state and local government here.

Below, read our editorial roundtable with state leaders for their take on the topic:

Members

Rep. Jeremy Gray, Alabama

Rep. Sonya Harper, Illinois

Sen. Megan Hunt, Nebraska

Rep. London Lamar, Tennessee

Sen. Cory McCray, Maryland

Sen. T’Wina Nobles, Washington

Sen. Joe Nguyen, Washington

Rep.Tram Nguyen, Massachusetts

Rep. Ajay Pittman, Oklahoma

Rep. Jena Powell, Ohio

Sen. Emily Randall, Washington

Discussion

In a couple of sentences, how have you changed the way you communicate with constituents and other stakeholders since the start of the pandemic?

Gray: Since the start of the pandemic, technology has played a significant part in communication, whether it’s heavily relying on social media for panel discussions, interviews, engaging constituents, or using Zoom, Google, and Microsoft Teams to have meetings and conferences.

I recently purchased a database that allows me to send more professional newsletters to constituents to ensure a constant flow of information and to ensure they know all the ways they can always reach out to me.

Harper: Since the pandemic started it seems like I communicate even more with constituents by phone, email and virtual meeting platforms. Digital newsletters are packed with even more information that helps to improve residents’ quality of lives and leads them to emergency resources they may need during this time.

Hunt: Virtual meetings have become a staple in my work life. During the Legislative session, I am in our state’s capital more than I am at home in the district I represent. Virtual meetings have allowed me to meet more frequently with my constituents back home, as well as engage with stakeholders from across the state. Virtual town halls, e-newsletters, uploading legislative debate to my YouTube channel, and an increased social media presence have all aided my constituents in staying up to date with the Legislative process.

Lamar: This pandemic has taken so much from us. My district and constituents have felt the weight of those losses. Personally, I have as well. Through the pandemic, I have chosen to share those vulnerable moments with constituents; to show them that they are not alone in these moments of hardships. I utilize social media and digital communications to over-communicate when I can’t meet in person.

McCray: We have increased our communications with video platforms for constituent meetings, school visits, and speaking at conferences. We have also increased postal mail distributions to ensure that the people we were not able to talk to by door-knocking in neighborhoods still understand that we are working for them. In the future, we will examine other avenues of communicating.

Nobles: Due to being elected during a pandemic. I’ve only experienced being a senator under these unique, remote circumstances. My main form of communication has solely been through online platforms. Although online is very different from the in-person experience, I try my hardest to empathize with my constituents and stakeholders — especially given the difficult circumstances resulting from the pandemic. Communication has always been an important aspect to me, therefore, I’m always attentive to how my constituents are being impacted by the pandemic, and how I can help aid them in solving their issues. There are rare occasions where racial discourse presents difficulties in communication, so I create boundaries for myself in order to maximize quality assistance and care for myself and my team. Nevertheless, I approach communication with empathy and express love and kindness to my community. I strive to be a supportive and understanding leader because my constituents are a priority to me.

J. Nguyen (WA): Interestingly, we’ve increased the volume of engagement with our constituents. Since there is no expectation to meet in person and a collective comfort to move online, we’ve actually been able to engage more constituents during the pandemic. This also means that during session, constituents don’t have to take off time to visit in person just to speak to legislators. We’ve been able to communicate more accessibly with more of our community.

T. Nguyen (MA): Of course we have gone virtual since the start of the pandemic, and we have communicated more than ever with constituents. We started sending a weekly e-newsletter to our constituents, full of information about resources available to them to help get through COVID. We have updated our website to include a page dedicated to resources and information on COVID. We’ve held virtual town halls and office hours to provide information and answer constituents’ questions.

Pittman: The pandemic of COVID-19 revealed several more pandemics within communities of color. Housing, unemployment, food insecurities, and one of the biggest things was the digital divide. I had to change the way I communicated due to the lack of access for residents in poverty and those who lost everything due to the pandemic. Therefore, I had to adapt to a new process of communicating with constituents such as robo-calls, texting campaigns and email blast, in order to promote the CDC recommendations for safety precautions, still give them legislative updates, and encourage them to vote during the 2020 election cycle.

Powell: At the beginning of COVID-19, we began doing what I called “Community Conversations” — online video town halls where people could listen in to me and guest experts discuss a variety of subjects.  These also enabled a larger platform for me to hear from my constituents and receive valuable feedback which I then take back with me to the Statehouse to speak for my district.

Randall: Our team’s commitment to accessibility and transparency hasn’t changed. From day one of my time in office, we’ve stayed in touch with our community members through email, snail mail, phone, and Facebook, and as soon as the senate greenlighted the use of Instagram and Twitter, we launched those too. The pandemic only compelled us to get more creative with live-streaming platforms like Facebook Live, Zoom Webinars, and StreamYard, and ensure that — whether our neighbors are tuning in from a landline on the rural Key Peninsula, streaming to their smartphone while they catch the ferry from Southworth, or are tuning in on their computer from their living room in Bremerton — our community members have the tools they need to stay in touch.

How do you use platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams in your role as a state official? Do you hold Town Halls, policy discussions or meetings on the platforms? Did you utilize these technologies prior to the pandemic?

Gray: I use zoom and Microsoft Teams for caucus meetings, town halls, conferences, and even opportunities to join panels across the state and within my district. Before the pandemic, I relied heavily on meeting with folks in person; however, to do my part in slowing the spread of COVID-19, I ensure there is always an option to meet virtually.

Harper: I consistently use platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to hold meetings, town halls and all types of events. Whether I am meeting with a constituent, chairing a committee or even voting in session, I’ve had to use these platforms in order to continue my legislative and district work.

Hunt: I hold virtual town hall meetings via Zoom, in addition to using the platform for meetings, panel discussions, interviews, and hosting or attending a variety of virtual webinars and events. These platforms are new to me, having never utilized them prior to the pandemic, but now it is hard to imagine working and engaging with constituents without them.

Lamar: The global shift to Zoom and Microsoft Teams has exponentially expanded the possibilities for collaboration and engagement in policy and politics. Whether that be a young person stumbling onto a Zoom call about economic development in their community or existing organizations merging together to form a new coalition, the ease of virtual meetings have moved us to the next level in our political engagement. I did use virtual meetings to host town halls, meetings with state departments, community coalitions, and my Black History Month series!

McCray: No, I was not familiar with these platforms prior to the pandemic, but I have become very versed in using them. Electronic mediums have now become the default of reaching wider audiences because they provide quicker and greater access.

Nobles: As a state official, I use the various platforms to invite more of my constituents to participate in the legislative process. Staying connected with community allows me to adequately serve my constituents and ensure that their voices, concerns, and ideas are better represented at the legislature. I believe that the expanded use of technology has increased the access to legislators, therefore, I utilize it for virtual discussions with my colleagues and community stakeholder groups. Furthermore, I use it to educate my community members and to also connect with my team, in order to strategize plans for legislation. I think, most of all, it helps me as a newly elected senator, because I am able to gain visuals of people and build relationships because of the online platforms.

J. Nguyen (WA): We use a number of online platforms to host everything from constituent meetings, townhalls, policy discussion and just generally to communicate information out quickly. I used these tools prior to the pandemic and what was interesting was seeing the widespread adoption from colleagues who were hesitant about technology.  

T. Nguyen (MA): We are on Zoom and Teams constantly. My office has convened stakeholders via Zoom many times to get their input and feedback on bills. We use Teams and Zoom for committee hearings, caucus meetings, meetings with constituents, advocates and more. We also use them for briefings, town halls, office hours and more. These platforms do make it easier to attend more meetings every day without the time and cost of transportation, not to mention the concern about spreading the virus. We used Zoom occasionally before the pandemic for meetings with experts and advocates from out of state, but Teams is completely new to us.

Pittman: As a legislator, our state had access to communicate via electronic venues and platforms to share information internally and externally. Then we had to pivot to vote electronically for committee votes. We had to revamp and expand our capacity to communicate with constituents in various electronic platforms and social media. I hosted virtual workshops and updates called “Sunset Sundays” that took place on Sunday evenings about various topics hosted via Facebook live. We also would host evenings using StreamYard so we could pre-record information for our community and still add our personal branding information. G-Suite kept our team on track by giving us the ability to work on documents and spreadsheets in real time with each other. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were platforms that we utilized along with radio for a variety of constituents who lack technology resources. Yes, some of these technology platforms we used prior to the pandemic but we learned how to use so many more as the market became flooded with a lot of different virtual platforms.

Powell: We utilize as many forms of communication as possible because at the end of the day it is all about representing the people of my district and ensuring that they know I am being their voice in Columbus. I utilized conference lines for some meetings prior to COVID-19 and continue to do so now.

Randall: Even pre-pandemic, developing and implementing a robust remote public testimony option in the committee I chair – Higher Education & Workforce Development – was a commitment of mine. Our committee pioneered this option and helped provide the model for remote public testimony in every other committee when the pandemic demanded that. We use a combination of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and livestreaming to Facebook and YouTube to make sure our legislative work is accessible and available to our neighbors.

Have you leaned on social media more or less to communicate with constituents during the pandemic?

Gray: I have always used social media as a platform to communicate with constituents, but these days I seem to be utilizing it more often than not. For me, it’s easier to respond via social media than by email. I’ve also started to give a legislative update on TikTok. My team and I are in the early stages of building my online presence on Tik Tok, but this platform is a great way to reach younger audiences.

Harper: I have definitely leaned on social media more to communicate with constituents.

Hunt: Social media has always been a primary way for me to connect with my constituents. I believe it is important to meet people where they are at and make accessing the legislature as easy as possible. Although my social media presence was strong before the pandemic, it has definitely increased in recent years.

Lamar: Coupling the pain from the pandemic with the heavy nature of politics, I find that folks are checking out. That is absolutely understandable and expected. To re-engage my constituents and all of my followers, I strive to center my communication around joy and action. Whether I’m using a viral Tik Tok sound like “Prepare to be sick of me!” or a Wix newsletter, my constituents receive action-oriented messages that spark joy! Plus, we spend so much time on social media, why not take advantage of that!

McCray: While I use social media to amplify conversations about subjects that I am working on and to educate my constituency, I still prefer not to communicate constituent issues through social media or digital messaging to ensure that my staff is looped in on conversations. My preferred method of communication for constituent issues continues to be email for confidentiality, record keeping, and streamlining coordination.

Nobles: Social media is an asset that I have always used, even prior to being elected as a senator. It is a sincere way for me to connect with my constituents, especially through polls, infographics, question/answer forms, videos and other creative arrangements.

J. Nguyen (WA): Much more, and for communicating updates and alerts beyond our activities in the office. There were some difficult moments where constituents needed information related to the pandemic and we found social media was helpful to disseminate public health information.

T. Nguyen (MA): Our social media was already active before the pandemic. We definitely use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to share useful information with our constituents. But we find that our e-newsletter reaches a larger, more targeted audience.

Pittman: We were connected with social media prior to the pandemic of COVID-19, and the additional variants, but we had to post more, share more resources, give more frequent updates and tutorials. We also measured the effectiveness of when to post and share for the maximum responses. So we communicate more now on social media but to a more targeted audience.

Powell: The same.

Randall: Our social media platforms have continued to be useful tools throughout the pandemic, whether we’re streaming a town hall live to Facebook, providing real-time bill updates on Twitter or hopping on to Instagram to provide a post-committee recap on reels. Not only are social media platforms a great way to stay transparent and accountable to our community members – these platforms have been an important tool for sharing helpful community resources, like vaccine and testing drives, food bank details and housing vouchers.

What other avenues of communication have increased for your or your office during the pandemic? Example: E-newsletters, texting, polling.

Gray: Currently, I send out monthly e-newsletters to engage with my constituents on what I have been accomplishing or issues I have been advocating for during the legislative session. I use this newsletter to also connect my constituents or donors to my social media pages or news article I’m featured in. During the pandemic, I sent out text messages to see if I could assist the citizens of District 83 with anything from food to medical services.

Harper: E-newsletters have definitely increased as well as the use of apps.

Hunt: My social media presence has expanded throughout the pandemic as I now use YouTube to archive important legislative debates and public hearings. These recordings offer my constituency an alternative way to stay engaged with the legislature, but from the safety of their own homes. In addition to formal legislative communication channels, I directly respond to constituent concerns via direct messages on a variety of my social media platforms, making it easy for my constituents to communicate with me. During the height of the pandemic, my office would send numerous e-newsletters with accurate health information, community resources, and state aid available. These newsletters served as a lifeline for many Nebraskans who were severely impacted by the pandemic.

Lamar: As a young elected official, my office has always been committed to a diverse range of communication strategies. Not only do we use social media, but we also email our weekly e-newsletter, record weekly legislative wrap-up videos in our studio, op-eds in newspapers, and interviews on TV stations. Whether you have a limited amount of time, are a visual learner, or a reader, my office has a type of communication specifically for you!

McCray: We still continue to build our email list serve and it has grown significantly during the pandemic.

Nobles: Through my time of being elected, my office and I have increasingly utilized a few different avenues of communication including live streaming platforms and teleprompter apps. I also try to take advantage of arrangements that cater to audiences that need more assistance in communication, for example, I collaborate with organizations that use interpreters, closed captions, and sign language services for those who need it. Communication is a vital part of my job, therefore, I try to expand my horizons for the constituents who do not use the mainstream platforms.

J. Nguyen (WA): What’s interesting is that increasing communications could cause diminishing returns. So we didn’t do e-newsletters or texting, etc. In order to streamline, we would re-share helpful resources or information that many other offices and agencies were sending out. 

T. Nguyen (MA): Our e-newsletter has been a very effective tool. And Zoom has helped us hold meetings with constituents at their request, without waiting for official office hours. We’ve had hundreds of constituents reach out to us regarding unemployment claims, for example, which happens to be one of our areas of expertise; it’s important to help them as soon as possible. Whether they reach out by phone or by email, we always get back to them. Our goal is to be accessible to our constituents whenever they need us.

Pittman: Yes, my legislative office was impacted due to the fact that we had to limit in-person visits and constituent meetings. There was not a clear path to ensuring safety when residents who live close were vaccinated or chose to wear masks. We created a newsletter, but quickly discovered the barriers to access the information. The solution was to increase smaller bits of information on social media posts, radio updates, print news, and texting.

Powell: My use of telephone town halls increased as well as my use of Facebook Live. We continued with our usual avenues of communication to constituents via email newsletters, local papers, phone calls, town halls, letters, etc.

Randall: We increased our use of SurveyMonkey surveys to gather community input in an organized and accessible way, and we increased the number of livestreams — to Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter — we’d do per month.

Many state legislatures are meeting virtually as new variants lead to outbreaks or higher cases of infection. How has the increased use of technology impacted the legislative process? Do you think it has enhanced access to democracy or limited it?

Gray: In Alabama’s constitution, we must convene in person to take up the people’s business. Still, we have found other ways to keep citizens engaged due to the limitation on foot traffic at the Alabama Statehouse.

We now broadcast committee meetings and sessions for lobbyists and citizens. We also have an option of members voting from a Microsoft tablet if they want to be away from other members.

Lastly, all meetings about politics outside of voting on bills are conducted virtually if applicable. This reduces the travel component in many cases and creates a more efficient process.

Harper: Most of our legislative committees are still meeting virtually which helps us keeps things going while we can’t meet in person. The ability to meet virtually has drastically increased the amount of work we can get done at once with many members having to be in more than one committee at once depending on calendar and flow of a particular committee. At times I feel like a TV news producer again with several monitors in front me at once, all with different meetings going and of course my favorite spotlight to make sure I can be seen on camera. I think that virtual session and committees are good in helping us get the work done but there is a lot less contact with advocates and lobbyists and I do feel like we may be missing out on some voices at the table simply because they can’t get into a virtual room as easy as they can walk into a committee room.

Hunt: The Nebraska Legislature has been very resistant to upgrading its technology. During the height of the pandemic, no virtual accommodations were available to individuals testifying at our public hearings. Only this year has the Legislature adopted an online bill comment process. There has been a strong push from the public for our Legislature to expand its online access through virtual testimony options and by establishing a digital archive of legislative video coverage. In fact, a bill (LB 777) has been introduced this session to create a digital archive of legislative video coverage. Many of my colleagues have also called for the Legislature to adopt procedures to allow for a virtual convening of the Legislature in case of any outbreaks or emergencies, which has been met with silence.

Nebraska is home to our nation’s only Unicameral Legislature, where our second house is the citizens of Nebraska. During the height of the pandemic, and now, citizens’ access to our Legislature has been limited for those with health concerns as they are unable to testify in a safe manner with very limited precautions put in place by the Legislature. I have no doubt that, if the Legislature increased its use of virtual options, citizen participation would drastically increase. Living in a rural state, many Nebraskans have to drive for hours to reach the Capitol, with public hearings scheduled during the work day. Increasing our virtual presence will give greater access to working individuals, individuals with limited mobility and health concerns, parents, senior citizens, rural residents, and the youth of Nebraska.

Lamar: The Tennessee General Assembly has not been virtual. We have been working in person since March 2020. Fortunately, for our constituents, that means that our processes have stayed the same. I do think that the increased participation that we are seeing from constituents is correlated with the pandemic. Our constituents have had more time to explore the General Assembly’s systems and structure and understand how we operate so that they can get involved.

McCray: During the shutdown and after our society began to gradually reopen, members of the legislature were and still are relegated to holding virtual meetings. That took a bit of adjustment because there is shared synergy between people when they come together in the same room to brainstorm and problem-solve. Electronic communications puts distance between people. It changes the way people relate and some of the connection between people can get lost. However, I work with great people on my team and in the legislature, so we always cooperate and find ways to power through anything to accomplish our goals.

Overall, I think that meeting virtually has definitely enhanced our democracy, but I frequently think about how the pandemic exposed the inequities and disparities in many urban and rural jurisdictions regarding broadband access, access to devices, and internet connectivity. This is one example of a blaring social justice and equity issue in Maryland that has been present for decades but exacerbated during the pandemic.  There are services and opportunities that are simply not optional to a good quality of life that, for the investment of human lives, need to be available to everyone regardless of socioeconomic status or the jurisdiction in which you live. When vital services and opportunities shifted online such as education, telehealth, and telework to name a few, it is disappointing and greatly concerning when I think about the thousands of people who continue to be completely shut out. Thousands of constituents are incredibly inconvenienced because they either have to travel a distance for access to the internet and to use devices or they go without. The legislature and the Baltimore City Senate Delegation continues to work for the benefit of all our constituents. We will not stop to close gaps on disparities and inequities in Maryland.

Nobles: Being a new senator, many of the stakeholders and lobbyists have not been able to meet me in person, but there has been more access to the democratic process. We’re able to be more thoughtful about who has access to the legislature and the legislative process. Groups no longer need to take all day off work to come to Olympia and speak to their legislators. Advocates represent more of the people they are advocating for around the state. We’ve also had increased participation in testimony by expanding remote testimony options. As a state senator that has only experienced a remote legislative cycle, I am aware that of the benefits that technology has provided us in remaining and becoming better connected with our communities. Though I sincerely hope we recover from the pandemic, I hope we take some of these useful technological resources into future sessions and interactions.

J. Nguyen (WA): Remote session is much more accessible for the average constituent. In fact, we had record numbers of individuals who testified in committee. I think going forward we would need a hybrid model where legislators would still conduct business in person but also allow for remote engagement for those who can’t take the day to visit the capital.

T. Nguyen (MA): I think that virtual meetings have made the legislative process more accessible to a broader range of people. The Massachusetts Statehouse has made all of our hearings and formal sessions available online. The public can pre-register to testify at hearings and can tune in without driving through traffic and paying a fortune for parking. As a result, we’ve had a lot of public engagement in our committee hearings. We’ve had teenagers and people with disabilities easily logging on to give testimony. When more people participate, that’s good for democracy.

Pittman: In Oklahoma, the legislative process was slightly hindered during the first wave of the pandemic. We developed a virtual voting system for the remainder of legislative session in 2020. However, that option has not been continued throughout the rest of the pandemic, which I believe limited access and created barriers for members and staff, especially those who have preexisting conditions or lived with vulnerable populations. We have learned that we can accomplish more through the use of technology, due to that we see a spike in broadband legislation throughout the country for those who lack the resources. As our country adapts and evolves our legislative process must keep growing with the ever-changing climate to give opportunities for those who would like to serve.

Powell: Increased use of technology has enabled more people in our community to find out what is happening, to know how we vote and to have additional ways of communicating with us.

Randall: When we broadened our remote public testimony options in 2021, we found that participation in the public testimony process tripled over 2020. This year, we’re on track to beat our 2021 records, as more folks from every corner of our state have gotten even more comfortable with lending their voice to the legislative process from wherever they are — on a lunch break at work, riding in the car on their way to school, from the comfort of their home while they provide childcare. Though I look forward to opportunities to be with our neighbors and colleagues at the legislature in person again, I’m committed to keeping the tools that we’ve developed over the last two years for remote participation in the legislative process.

Norton Healthcare Partners with Goodwill for Historic $100M Investment in West Louisville

By Victor Montgomery

Norton Healthcare, a CSG Associate, announced a joint $100 million investment in combination with Goodwill Industries of Kentucky (Goodwill) and Governor Andy Beshear to transform programs and services in West Louisville.

One of Kentucky’s most underserved communities, West Louisville is home to 65,000 mostly African American families living on $21,000 or less per year. Prior to the announcement, the nine-neighborhood community endured years of poor investment, limited employment opportunities, and financial barriers to self-sufficiency. In response to these broad challenges, the investment will fund development of a 20-acre abandoned lot into an Opportunity Campus to house a new Norton Heathcare hospital, Goodwill’s headquarters operation, and a collection of local agencies providing career development and numerous other services.

“Norton Healthcare has been intentional about providing access to quality medical treatment by eliminating obstacles so all residents can live a healthy and prosperous life,” said Russell F. Cox, president and CEO, Norton Healthcare. “This state-of-the-art facility will help us continue to bring health equity to the forefront. A person’s ZIP code should never define their health status and their ability to receive care.”

Norton Healthcare is a not-for-profit hospital and health care system serving adult and pediatric patients from throughout Greater Louisville, Southern Indiana, the commonwealth of Kentucky and beyond. The hospital will be the first modern health care facility of its kind in West Louisville. Norton Healthcare will provide emergency room services, adult and pediatric primary care physician offices, and inpatient and outpatient services. X-rays and CT scans will also be available along with specialty services such as women’s health, cardiology, neurology, and endocrinology.

Norton Healthcare is Louisville’s third largest employer, with more than 18,000 employees, over 1,700 employed medical providers and approximately 2,000 total physicians on its medical staff. The new hospital is expected to create approximately 100 new jobs, roughly half of the 200 new jobs that the Opportunity Campus will bring to West Louisville, with an approximate average salary of $60,000. Altogether, career services provided by Goodwill and local agencies are expected to have an annual impact of $18.7 million by placing over 600 job seekers into full-time roles with businesses paying a minimum of $13 per hour.

“Access to quality health care, jobs and life-enhancing services is how we can better the lives of our people, break cycles of poverty and create a better future for every Kentuckian,” said Gov. Andy Beshear. “This investment by Goodwill Industries of Kentucky and Norton Healthcare will truly move West Louisville forward and create a lasting impact for this area and our people for generations to come. I am thankful for these two organizations and their commitment to investing in West Louisville and our people.”

The Opportunity Campus is slated to open its doors in the summer of 2023 when Goodwill Industries of Kentucky will celebrate its 100-year anniversary. Norton Healthcare’s hospital will take 18-24 months to complete. More details on the Opportunity Campus can be found at www.GoodwillWestLouisville.com.