Public safety agencies in 26 states are expected to receive a total of more than $2.5 billion in new funding from the so-called Government Services Fund, a little-known allotment in the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama. According to new documents obtained by PoliceOne, almost three quarters of those funds will be spent in just five states.
As has been previously reported on PoliceOne, the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) apportions approximately $4 billion to support law enforcement hiring, equipment purchases, and other operational costs, largely through Department of Justice grants such as COPS, Byrne/JAG, and others. PoliceOne has also been closely following developments in public safety applications for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) grants, announced by the Department of Education in March.
Language contained in the guidelines for this $53.6 billion revenue source allows for 18.2 percent (roughly $9.8 billion) of SFSF funds to be spent at the governor’s discretion on areas such as elementary and secondary education, institutes of higher learning, public safety, and transportation. This has come to be known as the Government Services Fund.
According to a new report, details are beginning to emerge about how these monies are being used to support public safety efforts — details that may be instructive to agencies still lobbying their legislative representatives and governors for assistance.
The 80/20 Rule
The report, to be released in coming days by Franklin, Tennessee-based Galain Solutions (a firm that provides grant consulting services to public safety agencies and private sector concerns), says that more than two thirds of the nearly $10 billion allotted to public safety through the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund is going to five states:
• California ($1.08 billion)
• Georgia ($280 million)
• North Carolina ($258 million)
• Washington ($182 million)
• Alabama ($97 million)
It is important to note that while some states such as Oklahoma, Indiana, Idaho, and Virginia have chosen to spend between just one and six percent of their potential SFSF funding on public safety, five states in addition to those mentioned above have chosen to devote 100 percent of their available discretionary SFSF funding to public safety. Combined, Kentucky, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wyoming will receive more than $250 million public safety monies from the Government Services Fund.
Although not quite aligned with the 80/20 rule, the overwhelming majority of this funding is going to just one fifth of the states. Why? Galain says it’s partially due to successful efforts by public safety advocates in those states to convince their governors of pressing needs.
In an exclusive interview with PoliceOne, Lorin Bristow, a partner at Galain Solutions, explains some of the reasons these ten states represent such a sizable portion of Government Services Fund disbursement.
“There are two factors here. One is simply the size of those states driving it, and the other is the determination of how much of the State Stabilization money they want to dedicate to public safety. The original Department of Education grants were based on a formula that essentially said, ‘the intent of this is to stabilize the educational systems across the states and we’re going to divvy this up based on population and a couple of other elements ... and that make sense: the more people, the more students, and the larger systems, the more money that was given.”
Bristow says that the 18.2 percent — the Government Services Fund — is the discretionary area in which a governor can, according to certain guidelines, assign spending on a variety of things, of which public safety is one.
“When you’ve got a large bucket of money and you’ve got 18 percent of a large bucket of money, and the governor says we want to spend all of this on public safety, then suddenly you’ve got a big pot of money for public safety. That would be the California example. They basically had a billion dollars in Government Services that made up that 18.2 percent and they said, ‘We want to spend all of that on public safety’,” Bristow tells PoliceOne. “I think it’s real interesting in places like Alabama — not a huge state population-wise — they said, ‘We’re going to put a whole lot of percentage of our Stabilization money into public safety.’ You look at it and you come up with 97 million dollars there.”
Think Creatively, Act Dynamically
Bristow tells PoliceOne that one of the originally stated intents of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, which is distributed through the Department of Education, is to help stabilize state and local government budgets in order to minimize and “avoid reductions in education and other essential public services.” It’s this language that provides the opening, but once the door is opened, how should an agency proceed through it?
“It’s kind of strange to think about using [education funding] for buying public safety equipment,” Bristow says, “but you have to tell the message beyond the technical capacity — it may be more of a political kind of a message that has to be sent here, both up the chain and as well as to the surrounding communities as to what some of the benefits to the investment are. For other grants, for other types of monies, that’s not really necessary because it’s more obvious. But that’s part of why the juvenile delinquency part of this seems to be getting lots of play. There’s a natural tie, of course, with education and youth and juvenile delinquency that makes this palatable and makes it workable in many communities.”
One example of such thinking is to “pitch” that some form of wireless data infrastructure (like WiFi) be purchased for your local schools with the aim of enhancing the classroom and the campus. Perhaps your pitch is for some other form of wireless data connectivity backhaul. The point is that you’re addressing a need that helps the community’s youth in a positive way, with the intent to prevent juvenile delinquency. At the same time, you add to the purchase proposal a plan to extend that infrastructure to other areas of the town so that public safety agencies can use the technology to respond to crime, juvenile delinquency included.
“There probably are plenty of other good ideas of how you could tie public schools and public safety together with a single purchase, but that gets you thinking in the right direction,” Bristow says.
It’s useful to look at how the SFSF funds have been assigned in the aforementioned “top five” states for other ideas and guidance. In nearly all these cases, a clear line can be drawn between the concepts of enhancing the quality of life for children and the ability of law enforcement to protect and serve them.
In California, Government Services monies have been set aside to support efforts undertaken in the Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act, as well as to enhance violence against women prevention and prosecution. California also plans to use this money for drug enforcement, funding for five regions statewide for dealing with the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine. The state also plans to use a portion of its Government Services funds help agencies prepare for health emergencies and natural disasters.
Georgia plans to devote a large portion of funding to improving facilities and adding staff in that state’s prisons as well as for education, rehab, and court processing costs related to juvenile delinquency. Georgia also plans on funding the prevention and prosecution of crimes against children, particularly related to online criminal activity.
The payroll situation for North Carolina’s Department of Corrections was dire when that state’s SFSF applications were made. Consequently, the governor requested immediate disbursement of 90 percent of the Government Services Fund to support May and June payroll for the Corrections and the courts systems.
In Washington, funding will be allocated to improve and enhance the quality and availability of victim’s services, specifically for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Related to violence against women, funding will likely go to transitional housing for victims of domestic abuse.
Although specific allocations have not been publicized for Alabama, Galain anticipates that spending will align with the Governor’s public safety priorities of highway safety, prison overcrowding, recidivism, and crisis response.
“Though originally conceived to support and enhance the country’s educational system, the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund is a significant, albeit short-term, source of revenue for public safety. The estimated $2.5 billion in funds will help support personnel and programs during an otherwise difficult funding environment,” the Galain report concludes.
Opportunities remain open in many states for law enforcement agencies to secure such stimulus money — particularly those agencies that can creatively tie together the missions of public schools and public safety. Check out PoliceGrantsHelp for more resources and ideas. And if your agency has done something interesting in this regard, we want to hear from you. So send us an e-mail and tell us your story.