FAQ: Request for Assistance
The Network held webinars in 2014 explaining the Network's activities with a particular focus on technical assistance provided and the RFA application process. The slides from, and a recording of, that presentation can be found in the Resource Library.
Is my city eligible for technical assistance through the Network?
How do I determine whether my city meets the economic and demographic eligibility criteria?
Can I still apply for technical assistance even though my city doesn't meet the economic and demographic criteria?
I represent a county government, council of governments, school system, nonprofit, or other community stakeholder. Can I apply?
What does the application actually require? Can I see it before my city decides to apply?
What sorts of technical assistance projects does the Network undertake?
I've submitted my application for technical assistance through the website. What happens next?
How will the Network go about developing a customized technical assistance plan for my city? What if we don't like what the Network suggests?
The RFA mentions that cities will be required to provide additional funding or resources to support the Network technical assistance project. What does this mean in practice?
My city has is struggling with a constrained fiscal situation. Can the Network provide any assistance or flexibility regarding this funding match requirement?
The application asks whether my city is interested in participating in peer to peer activity. What is that?
Besides the match, what is expected of the city throughout the assessment and assistance process?
Who in our city should fill out the application?
Can we save the application and come back to it?
If we apply and aren’t selected, can we reapply at a later date?
If I have any questions or issues, who should I contact?
1. Is my city eligible for technical assistance through the Network?
Cities with over 40,000 residents may be eligible for Network assistance if they meet at least one of the following criteria:
a 2013 annual average unemployment rate of 9 percent or more, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics;
a population decline of 5 percent or more between 2000 and 2010, as measured by the U.S. Decennial Census.
a poverty rate of 20 percent or more (excluding students enrolled in undergraduate, graduate or professional school), as measured by the 2010-2012 American Community Survey;
For cities that do not meet the above criteria but still wish to participate in the National Resource Network, please refer to Question #3.
2. How do I determine whether my city meets the economic and demographic eligibility criteria?
Cities may email firstname.lastname@example.org to ask whether they meet the eligibility criteria. Alternatively, city staff may use the following public data sources and calculations:
2013 annual average unemployment rates are available for download through the Local Area Unemployment Statistics, hosted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
2000 and 2010 U.S. Census population figures are available for download through the “Advanced Search” portal at the Census website.
2010-2012 American Community Survey figures are also available for download through the “Advanced Search” portal at the Census website, though a simple calculation is required to determine the non-college poverty rate. First, download tables C17002 and B14006. Next, perform the following calculation:
((“Variable 2 in Table C17002” + “Variable 3 in Table C17002”) - (“Variable 9 in Table B14006” + “Variable 10 in Table B14006”)/(“Variable 1 in Table C17002”)
3. Can I still apply for technical assistance even though my city doesn't meet the economic and demographic criteria?
In some cases, yes.
Cities with over 40,000 residents may still qualify for direct assistance projects if they can demonstrate significant government capacity challenges as evidenced by one of the following factors:
a bond rating downgrade or change in outlook;
failure to balance local government budget for two or more years in a row since 2008; or
a reduction of 10 percent or more of local government workforce in the last three years.
In addition, cities that do not meet eligibility criteria may be included in a regional application for direct assistance. The Network strongly encourages joint applications, where multiple cities in the same geographic region seek to work together to address a common set of problems. The lead city applicant must meet the eligibility criteria and/or demonstrate the government capacity challenges as outlined above, but co-applicants are not required to do so.
4. I represent a county government, council of governments, school system, nonprofit, or other community stakeholder. Can I apply?
While we strongly encourage the engagement of community partners throughout the assessment and engagement process, only city governments are eligible to apply through the Request for Assistance.
5. What does the application actually require? Can I see it before my city decides to apply?
The application is three pages long and very straightforward. The first page requires the city to indicate whether they are submitting a joint application and asks for the contact information for the city's mayor and the person completing the application. The second page has two essay questions; the first must be completed by everyone and asks for details on a city's challenges, what the city has done to address them, and how the city thinks the Network could be of assistance. The second essay question is only required of those cities who don't meet the core criteria, but meet the secondary criteria, and allows a city to make the case for qualifying for assistance. Finally, the third page asks for a proposed project manager and provides the city an opportunity to express interest in other Network programs and topics.
To see the application in full - and with no obligation to complete it - please create an account on the Network's website. Anyone logged into the site can review and/or start the RFA.
6. What sorts of technical assistance projects does the Network undertake?
Because the Network has brought together experts in all areas of local government and economic development, we can offer cross-cutting solutions and strategies in most areas that affect economic and operational capacity. For example, at present, the Network is advancing specific community revitalization projects, promoting job growth through downtown development, deploying new housing and community development strategies, developing multi-year local budgets and financial plans, conducting operational reviews, and identifying resources to improve student academic performance in local schools.
Once a city is selected into the program, the Network will work with city staff to develop a customized technical assistance project that addresses the city’s most pressing needs. Projects vary in duration (from four months to one year) and in cost (from $50,000 to $500,000). A critical part of every direct assistance project will be building on-the-ground partnerships with local stakeholders and developing a detailed plan for continuing work after direct assistance is complete.
7. I've submitted my application for technical assistance through the website. What happens next?
The Network evaluates applications on a rolling basis. Within one week of submission, Network staff will contact the city to request follow-up information and to schedule a call with executive leadership. The purpose of this call will be to discuss the city’s priorities and most pressing direct assistance needs; participation in the call by senior city leadership is required (e.g. Mayor, Mayor’s Chief of Staff, and/or City Manager). Network staff will then grade the city’s application based on the city’s needs and readiness to move forward with economic recovery efforts. The time period between application submission and a decision on whether to proceed with an assessment could take up to three months.
Note: In April 2015, the Network announced a priority deadline of May 1, 2015 for Requests for Assistance. Cities that apply by May 1 will be guaranteed consideration for Network assistance in 2015. In addition, they will be eligible to participate in a June convening of cities in the Network. We will still consider applications received after May 1, but aren't able to guarantee that the applications will be reviewed in time for work to begin in 2015.
8. How will the Network go about developing a customized technical assistance plan for my city? What if we don't like what the Network suggests?
Once a city’s RFA has been accepted, a team of experts will conduct a diagnostic assessment of the community’s challenges and resources, focusing on capacity, operations, and priority issues identified by the city. This assessment will be informed by discussions with key city staff and stakeholders, an in-person site visit, and a review of recent initiatives and data trends. The purpose of the assessment is to identify opportunities for transformational technical assistance, with a maximum potential to catalyze the community’s revitalization.
Prior to preparing a draft assessment report, Network staff will share and discuss key findings and technical assistance recommendations with the city’s executive leadership. The project will not move forward until the city and the Network have reached an agreement around the purpose and scope of the customized direct assistance project.
9. The RFA mentions that cities will be required to provide additional funding or resources to support the Network technical assistance project. What does this mean in practice?
Through federal funding, the Network is able to cover 75% of the costs of direct assistance. Once the city and the Network have reached an agreement around the scope of the proposed direct assistance project, the city will be asked to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), taking responsibility for the remaining 25% of project costs. Payment of these funds is due within 60 days of the execution of the MOU. The city may provide funds from its own local government budget or it may secure funding from a third party, such as a local foundation or a coalition of community partners.
10. My city has is struggling with a constrained fiscal situation. Can the Network provide any assistance or flexibility regarding this funding match requirement?
We understand that the 25% match – especially for a large project – could be challenging for a city to provide: it is, however, an essential means of showing a city’s buy-in for the overall project. Fortunately, though, the match is not due upon signing an agreement and the Network can provide assistance to cities seeking outside funding through development of proposals and participation in meetings with potential funders. Depending on the nature of a project, cities may also be able to consider “in-kind” donations of staff time and non-financial resources. If your city is selected for an assessment and moves forward in the process, Network staff will discuss with you options for generating the 25% match.
11. The application asks whether my city is interested in participating in peer to peer activity. What is that?
The Network’s peer-to-peer activity is designed to meet the needs of participating cities. This means that participants identify topics and problems for discussions. In-person and virtual opportunities are arranged by the Network, but rely on participants’ leadership and involvement to ensure the most relevant value. While the Network will provide ample opportunity to interact as a group, participants are also encouraged to connect individually.
12. Besides the match, what is expected of the city throughout the assessment and assistance process?
A senior official, who reports to the mayor, the city manager or the chief administrative officer, will be designated as a program manager for the Network. This individual is expected to provide timely cooperation to all reasonable requests by the Network for documents, data and other information.
The mayor is expected to commit to implementing actions developed as part of the direct assistance project. Prior to the completion of the project, the city is expected to develop a written plan for continued implementation, including a timetable of specific activities and a set of metrics for measuring the progress.
The city is expected to participate in peer-to-peer activity during the term of the direct assistance plan and for an additional year after completion of the project. Please refer to Question #9 for more information.
Finally, the work of the Network, including its work with the city, will be the subject of an independent evaluation conducted by the Urban Institute. The city is expected to provide full cooperation with all reasonable requests for data and documents by the Urban Institute as part of its evaluation.
13. Who in our city should fill out the application?
The application point of contact should be someone in the city manager or mayor’s office who is capable of securing and conveying city leadership’s buy-in and articulating the needs of the community. The application point of contact does not have to be the project manager; the project manager will actually work with the Network team on implementation.
14. Can we save the application and come back to it?
As long as you are logged into your account on the Network’s website, you can save, leave, and return to the application as many times as needed to complete it. If you ever have issues accessing your application, please email email@example.com.
15. If we apply and aren’t selected, can we reapply at a later date?
Six months after receiving confirmation that the Network will not be providing technical assistance in your community, your city is eligible to reapply. Under these circumstances, please answer the essay questions in the application, but also describe how the circumstances in your community have changed and now create a different opportunity for the Network to engage.
Even if your city is not selected to receive assistance from the network, you are welcome to take part in a regional application that includes nearby cities. The six month waiting period will be waived in these cases.
At any point, a city that has not been selected may submit specific questions to the Network’s 311 for Cities feature, which provides research and expertise on a wide-variety of topics.
16. If I have any questions or issues, who should I contact?
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns.