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Initial post updated to add link to EAC CARES Act guidance page.
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission informed states last week that $400 million in federal funds allocated for election support in the CARES Act coronavirus stimulus bill will be subject to the standard 20% state match. Here’s the joint statement from the commissioners:
EAC Commissioners and staff are moving as quickly as possible to provide guidance surrounding the Consolidated Appropriations Act and CARES Act, including implementing the match requirement. Along with our partners, the EAC is working diligently to get this money to the states so election administrators across the country can immediately implement contingency efforts in response to coronavirus to protect voters and election staff, and maintain the integrity of our election process. State and local election officials are doing their utmost to make sure the voting process is safe while keeping it secure and accessible.
The Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department have been supportive in assisting the EAC with expediting the process to ensure funds are obligated and disbursed as quickly as possible. The EAC is distributing guidance to the states and hosting webinars to answer states’ questions as they prepare for the elections.
The CARES Act is subject to the conditions and restrictions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) of 2020. These conditions include the requirement that states allocate a 20% match of funds spent on the emergency grant project, which is to prepare and protect the administration of federal elections during the 2020 election cycle. The EAC is providing state grant recipients with FAQs and webinars to provide guidance in meeting the 20% match and accessing the funds.
CARES Act funds are expected to be awarded to the states by late next week [the week of April 6] and the EAC will conduct additional information sessions on the use of the funds. [emphasis added]
The EAC has since launched a page dedicated to the grants, including state amounts and other instructions. You can find that information here.
Roll Call reports that state officials and others are concerned about the match – and there is some desire in Congress to fix the issue in the next round of coronavirus stimulus legislation:
[S]ome election security experts were taken aback that the matching funds requirement wasn’t waived in the latest round of aid, and House Democrats are already planning to include a fix in the “phase four” COVID-19 bill they are prepping.
According to some state officials and others, the match requirement may pose a hardship at a time when states find their budgets under pressure due to the government-imposed economic shutdown that is cutting deeply into tax revenue and increasing spending on government assistance programs. That’s why the latest aid package included $150 billion for a “state stabilization fund,” for instance.
Beyond that, some states would need their legislatures to approve the match in order to apply for a grant. And many state legislatures are no longer in session because of the pandemic.
In the meantime, states will be looking to the EAC for guidance on how exactly the match can take place:
The National Association of Secretaries of State has not taken a position on the match requirement, but “our hopes are for election officials to receive the funds as soon as possible to address urgent needs around COVID-19,” Maria Benson, a spokeswoman for the association, said.
In an emailed statement, Benson said NASS “and our members are very appreciative of the $400 million in election funding” in the legislation. “As with any federal funds, states have questions about how they can be used, timing and other logistics, and are looking to the federal government for guidance on these issues.”
In the past, the EAC allowed states to make both cash and in-kind matches, and states had two years to match the funds, according to guidance issued for the grants in the earlier fiscal 2020 appropriation. It is unclear what if any changes will be made in the guidance for the new grants.
Needless to say, getting clarity on this issue is critical for states racing to prepare for 2020 elections, whether it’s the November general election or one of a host of state primaries postponed in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Moreover, local governments across the country are likely counting on some kind of assistance to cope with their own mounting challenges in the face of the pandemic. Here’s hoping that the EAC and everyone else concerned can give states the guidance they need to access those funds as soon as possible so that vitally important work can continue without interruption. Stay tuned …