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Finding Funds to Upgrade Your Records Requests Management System

May 16, 2022
Finding funding for software upgrades

Having a records request management tool is critically important for public agencies and organizations to stay on top of records requests. And yet it rarely receives a line item in agency budgets. Many agencies increased the frequency of communications during the pandemic, creating more records, and also saw an increase in records requests, especially around controversial topics like COVID-19, masks, and remote learning. If you need help fitting this technology into your budget, consider applying for funding from a federal or state program to improve technology. 

Educational agencies and schools may use funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER Fund). Police departments and other government agencies may use funds from other portions of funds allocated by the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act. The ARP also set aside money for state and local governments and public health & safety. The money can be used by local government agencies and law enforcement for improvements to data or technology infrastructure.

For government agencies and law enforcement

The final rule for ARP funds

The Department of the Treasury issued a final rule which went into effect on April 1, 2022, for the implementation of recovery funds under the ARP Act. According to the final rule, program administration needs, including technology resources, are covered. It states, 

“Technology infrastructure resources to improve access to and the user experience of government information technology systems, including upgrades to hardware and software as well as improvements to public-facing websites or to data management systems, to increase public access and improve public delivery of government programs and services (including in the judicial, legislative, or executive branches).”

Records request management software clearly falls into this category. It improves the user experience for both government employees receiving requests and citizens making them. NextRequest streamlines the process of filling requests with customizable workflows, easy redaction, and built-in invoicing. Adding a NextRequest portal to your website gives citizens better access to information. They can look for already published information or get notified if the agency is not the custodian of a record, so they can better decide if they need to make a request in the first place and to whom.

State funding

Grants in Washington state

Technology Tools is one of the types of grants offered as part of Washington State Archives’ Local Records Grant Program. This grant can be applied to records request tracking technology and records redaction technology – NextRequest is both

When applying for a grant, you’ll need to provide information about your current records requests process and how it will be improved by the software. First, you’ll need to estimate how many public records requests you receive per year. Even if you receive fewer than 100 requests per year, NextRequest can still reduce your costs of filling them. And we know that the costs of records requests aren’t solely defined by the billable hours of staff – lawsuits and other unforeseen costs can be expensive.

You’ll also need to explain what improvement in response time to public records requests can be expected. We hear over and over from our customers how much time NextRequest has saved them. Janet Chapan, Sr. Deputy City Clerk of the City of West Sacramento, said, ​​"I estimate that I spend at least 50% less time fulfilling a request with NextRequest compared to how we were doing it before."

You can find out more about the grant application process and what information you’ll need to share here. If you're not in Washington state, check with your state for more information about what kinds of grants are available for technology and infrastructure improvements.

For schools and school districts

What are ESSER funds?

Congress set aside approximately $13.2 billion of the $30.75 billion allotted to the Education Stabilization Fund through the CARES Act for the ESSER Fund. These relief funds have been awarded to State educational agencies (SEAs) for the purpose of providing local educational agencies (LEAs), including charter schools that are LEAs, to address the impact COVID-19 had and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools.

The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA) was signed into law in December 2020 and provides an additional $54.3 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER II Fund). ESSER II Fund awards are available for obligation by SEAs and subrecipients through September 30, 2022, and can be applied to costs dating back to March 13, 2020, when the national emergency was declared. 

The American Rescue Plan Act, passed on March 11, 2021, provided an additional $122.7 billion in supplemental ESSER funding, known as the ESSER III fund. These funds were provided to state educational agencies and school districts to help safely reopen and sustain the safe operation of schools and address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on students. With fewer restrictions on how they can be used, these funds can be applied more broadly to school needs, like ensuring a secure and compliant online presence. The deadline for this funding is September 30, 2023.

What are the requirements for using ESSER funds?

1. The expense is connected to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The evolving understanding of the COVID-19 and changing regulations necessitated a higher frequency of government communications and outreach. There have been marked increases in requests related to these COVID-19 communication, particularly around masks, remote learning, and other initiatives designed to slow the spread of the virus that were sometimes unpopular with constituents. 

2. The expense is necessary.

Many public agencies and organizations are facing a backlog of unfilled records requests. Without a better way to manage requests, they will continue to pile up and may result in legal action and fines. 

3. The expense is not fulfilling a shortfall in government revenues.

NextRequest is an automation and workflow technology. It helps agencies stay in compliance with public record laws and mitigates issues around record requests. It is not replacing any government revenue.

4. The expense was not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020.

If NextRequest was not included in budgets before the national emergency was declared, it can be considered as a potential use of ESSER funds.

5. The expense wouldn’t exist without COVID-19 OR would be for a “substantially different” purpose.

Schools needed to disseminate accurate and up-to-date information in a constantly evolving situation. This increase in the frequency of public communication meant an increase in the rate at which public records were created. NextRequest saves agencies time and valuable resources. It also ensures compliance with public record law during this period of increased social media postings and comments.

Who can apply for ESSER funds?

Only state educational agencies (SEAs) can apply directly for funding, which can then be distributed as subgrants. If you represent a local educational agency, get in touch with your SEA to find out more about their process for allocating subgrants. See how much has been allocated to your state so far.

If you represent an SEA and want to learn more about ESSER applications and resources, visit the Department of Education’s general page and additional resources for ARP funding.

Improve your records requests infrastructure with NextRequest

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for Public Information Officers and other public employees who fulfill records requests. Most have seen a large uptick in the numbers of requests they receive, and few have seen their budgets increase. NextRequest is a smart, affordable way to make any number of requests manageable.

NextRequest has helped more than 350 state and local governments and schools streamline their records requests process. Customers have saved time and money, and they’ve been able to use those resources to pursue impactful projects in their communities. What could you accomplish with less time devoted to filling records requests?

Get a demo and see how your organization can make records requests faster and easier.

Check out our other solutions!

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