The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is a bold move toward mitigating climate change, allocating $370 billion towards accelerating clean energy initiatives that aim to address economic disparities. This funding holds the potential to not only create job opportunities but also cut down greenhouse gas emissions and improve overall air quality, paving the way for a sustainable future.
In light of this, FORWARD recently hosted an insightful panel discussion, “Get into the Fast Lane: Electrify Climate Action in Your Community,” bringing together government leaders to explore how technology can expedite climate action within communities. The distinguished panelists shared their invaluable insights on how to implement climate action initiatives and optimize the benefits of IRA in their respective communities, providing an inspiring roadmap for governmental and non-profit leaders.
- Aja Brown, Strategic Impact Partner at FORWARD and former Mayor of Compton, CA
- Mayor Rex Richardson, Mayor of Long Beach, CA
- Kwame Reed, Acting City Manager at the City of Antioch, CA
- Stephen Goldsmith, Derek Bok Professor of the Practice of Urban Policy and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard Kennedy School
- Marcus Mason, Senior Partner at The Madison Group, LLC (TMG)
Unleashing the Power of the Inflation Reduction Act to Transform Communities
The Inflation Reduction Act presents an unparalleled opportunity for communities to secure substantial funding in the quest to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create employment opportunities, and improve air quality. However, navigating the complex path to obtain IRA funds has proven challenging for government and nonprofit leaders alike, leading to a pressing need for clarity on accessing these resources for clean energy projects.
Leading the conversation, Aja Brown, Strategic Impact Partner at FORWARD and former Mayor of Compton, highlighted the significant challenge that jurisdictions face in accessing federal funding to support underserved communities, regardless of their size or available resources. With over two decades of experience in government, she provides valuable insights into the significant obstacles that jurisdictions face when securing federal funding for underserved communities and the need for technology as a vital tool for expediency and responsible stewardship of public resources.
"The power of technology is not only essential for expediency, but it also serves as a vital tool to actively steward public resources with utmost responsibility." - Aja Brown, Strategic Impact Partner at FORWARD and former Mayor of Compton, California
The Challenge of Allocating Federal Funds to Justice40 Communities
The Justice40 Initiative, a crucial commitment by the Biden-Harris Administration, aims to ensure that marginalized, underserved, and pollution-burdened communities receive at least 40% of federal climate investments. Despite being a positive development, there are several challenges associated with allocating federal funds to these Justice40 communities.
Dr. Stephen Goldsmith, Derek Bok Professor of the Practice of Urban Policy and Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard Kennedy School, shared a pertinent experience from his extensive background. Reflecting on his involvement in helping cities apply for Department of Transportation “Smart Grants,” he observed that many cities faced daily responsibilities that made grant applications challenging. He identified two significant challenges faced by Justice40 cities:
- Capacity Constraints: Many communities lack the necessary resources and expertise to efficiently apply for and manage grants.
- Coordination Hurdles: Insufficient collaboration among agencies during grant applications can hinder access to funds.
To overcome these obstacles, Dr. Goldsmith suggested that local leaders proactively take steps such as appointing dedicated grant application teams, outsourcing grant writing when needed, and facilitating access to funds for Justice40 residents. Building capacity within these communities becomes paramount to effectively utilizing funds, especially considering potential financial uncertainties.
"Technology can help to design user-friendly systems that are easy for residents to navigate. This is important because it can help ensure everyone has an equal opportunity to access the necessary resources." ~ Stephen Goldsmith, Derek Bok Professor of the Practice of Urban Policy and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard Kennedy School
During the discussion on the Justice40 Initiative, senior partner at The Madison Group, LLC (TMG), Marcus Mason, traced the roots of the Justice40 initiative back to the 10-20-30 Program, proposed by former House Majority Leader James Clyburn, which initially mandated a 10% allocation of federal funding to communities with persistent poverty rates of 20% over three decades.
Mason stressed the capacity gap between the federal and local governments in allocating funds. He also brought attention to the “last-mile problem,” which occurs not only in the Justice40 Initiative but also in other funding initiatives. This problem refers to the challenges of efficiently transferring funds from local governments to their intended destinations. To address this, Mason recommended streamlining processes and introducing technology tools to support local and state governments with limited capacity.
"Technology is the great equalizer; it helps you collect resources efficiently and distribute them to communities, businesses, and people in need." ~ Marcus Mason, Senior Partner at The Madison Group, LLC (TMG)
Harnessing Technology for Climate Goals
Mayor Richardson of Long Beach, California, is actively leveraging technology to drive economic growth and help the city achieve its climate action goals. Long Beach faces a unique challenge as it hosts the largest oil field in the United States while committing to carbon neutrality by 2045.
To tackle this challenge, Mayor Richardson and his team are developing sustainable solutions that utilize technology. As part of the city’s climate action adaptation plan, initiatives such as the electrification of the port, the creation of new job opportunities through infrastructure development, and the implementation of a tax on electricity usage have been prioritized. These measures aim to not only generate revenue for public services but also reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuels.
By embracing technology and implementing innovative solutions, Mayor Richardson and his team in Long Beach, California, are making significant progress toward achieving the city’s climate action goals while effectively addressing the unique challenges posed by its oil industry. A key aspect of their plan is the electrification of Long Beach’s port, which will bring numerous benefits. Not only will it contribute to a reduction in emissions, but it will also lead to a significant improvement in air quality within the area. This improvement in air quality will enhance the well-being and life expectancy of families residing in West Long Beach, many of whom are low-income individuals and people of color.
"We have to do all we can to layer technology strategies to have the best available cleanest technology." ~ Mayor Rex Richardson of Long Beach, California
FORWARD Partnerships: A Catalyst for Success
Kwame Reed, Acting City Manager at the City of Antioch, CA, highlighted the importance of public-private partnerships and the role of FORWARD in supporting the Antioch community. With approximately 2,500 small businesses in the city, the City Council allocated over a million dollars from the ARPA funding for small business grants and facade improvements as part of the COVID-19 recovery efforts. However, the City faced challenges, including a 25% employee vacancy rate, which made service delivery to the community more challenging.
In response to the challenges faced by the City of Antioch, FORWARD played a crucial role in simplifying and improving the administration of the program. The City partnered with FORWARD to administer the Antioch Small Business Grant Program, providing grants and facade upgrade reimbursements to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. FORWARD’s team was responsible for developing and implementing the application process, reviewing applicants, and providing regular reports directly to the City. By leveraging FORWARD’s technology, the City was able to efficiently identify businesses eligible for grants within the Qualified Census Tracts (QCTs) using a census map, streamlining the eligibility process and ensuring funds get to the businesses who need it most.
"As a city manager, we have about a 25% employee vacancy rate. Without FORWARD's assistance in tasks like grant intake and identifying future grant opportunities, it would have been challenging to serve our community and residents, including small businesses." ~ Kwame Reed, Acting City Manager at the City of Antioch, CA
Guidance for Government Leaders Tackling Inflation Reduction
Government leaders facing the challenge of accessing Inflation Reduction Act opportunities can benefit from valuable insights provided by industry experts, such as Marcus Mason, Senior Partner at The Madison Group, LLC (TMG), who emphasized the importance of avoiding excessive analysis and overthinking. He advises leaders not to get paralyzed by analyzing and thinking through things too much, stating that their mission and function are to deploy solutions to citizens efficiently. In other words, leaders should focus on taking action and delivering results instead of getting caught up in endless analysis.
Stephen Goldsmith, Derek Bok Professor of the Practice of Urban Policy and the Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard Kennedy School, provides further guidance by suggesting that leaders look at what is right in their own communities and how they can help people. By identifying the specific needs of the community, leaders can prioritize their efforts and make a meaningful impact. Goldsmith believes that this approach will not only direct leaders to the exact locations where their assistance is needed most but also potentially lead to even greater outcomes.
By incorporating these practical insights into their decision-making, government leaders can confidently navigate the complexities of implementing clean energy solutions in their communities. By avoiding analysis paralysis and focusing on taking action and addressing community needs, leaders can make a positive difference in their communities and effectively combat inflation.
- Capacity Building: Establish dedicated teams to manage grant applications and consider outsourcing grant writing for communities with limited capacity.
- Addressing the Last Mile: Streamline processes and offer tools like online grant portals to ensure efficient fund distribution, especially in underserved communities.
- Leverage Technology: Utilize technology to electrify fleets, invest in renewables, and enhance energy efficiency for climate goals.
- Public-Private Partnerships: Collaborate with nonprofits and private companies to expedite program success and engagement, especially during staffing shortages.
Need grant writing support?
FORWARD provides free consulting and grant writing services to help you strategize and acquire new opportunities to drive access and equity in your community.
Supercharge your inbox!
Sign up for IRA Climate Action Alerts to see more opportunities like this one and resources to drive green energy in your communities.