Largo wanted to be certain ARPA emergency dollars supported organizations that filled critical needs during the pandemic. The city used a powerful engagement cycle to ensure funds went to best use.
At A Glance
- The City of Largo, Florida, used a Polco survey to identify where the community required support during the pandemic.
- The City held meetings with local organizations to understand the experiences behind the data. Officials wanted to hear nonprofit leaders’ perspectives and how ARPA funding could alleviate some of their concerns.
- Based on what they learned, Largo’s City Commission approved a Safety Net Grant program to support local nonprofits that served the critical needs identified in the survey.
- The City successfully granted $650,000 to 31 organizations that fit the safety-net criteria.
Largo ARPA funding community meeting
Largo needed to deliver fast and effective support to vital organizations impacted by the pandemic.
The American Rescue Plan Act flooded billions of dollars to governments all over the US. The City of Largo, Florida, wanted to put their $12.9 million of relief dollars to best use.
Polco’s ARPA Survey gave Largo clear insights into where the community was hurting. Survey results showed residents' top concerns were: quality and affordable internet, affordable child care, economic security, mental health, housing, food insecurity, and workforce readiness. Challenges were particularly pronounced for non-white households.
Using the survey data, the City generated ideas on how to allocate. To do so, Largo formed the Community Recovery Team, a collective of departments working together to help the City rebound from the pandemic.
Community Engagement Administrator Julianne Perez said the group determined sending relief funds to nonprofit partners would be the most effective way to help. Nonprofits in particular stepped up during the height of Covid to care for community members who needed the most help.
The City wanted to get these groups relief dollars quickly.
Based on community feedback, officials designed a grant program to fund organizations that provide critical needs.
Largo held meetings with local organizations to add more context to the ARPA survey results. Perez says the City often uses a mixed-method approach to data collection. The in-person conversations, interviews, and focus groups help decision-makers fully understand lived experiences.
Largo officials presented survey findings to about 25 groups, including school district educators, local community centers, faith-based organizations, and others.
“We heard about their personal experiences as organization leaders, staff turnover, challenges of the hybrid work environment, and inflation,” Perez said. “Along with staff turnover, demand for services went up. Some faith-based leaders went from providing food once per month to every week.”
At the meetings, the City also heard more voices from the east side of Largo, which includes a large portion of the City’s Hispanic population and neighborhoods in the greater planning area. Fewer east side residents and business owners responded to the survey (available in English and Spanish).
“The meeting was a way to complement and fill the gaps of the data and also verify what we heard,” Perez said.
(Polco does offer survey solutions to account for under-heard populations. Largo plans to work with Polco to oversample the east side of town in future surveys to hear from more individuals in these neighborhoods.)
Perez said many nonprofit leaders also vocalized that grant application processes are often confusing, and sometimes applications have very specific criteria.
After the meetings, the City had enough information to create the grant.
“The discussions and Polco data helped make the case for a Safety Net program,” Perez said.
Largo officials drafted the plan and presented how it would work at a follow-up meeting.
“We got a lot of feedback. They said You heard us at the last meeting. They gave us some minor tweaks, but overall felt like we really listened to them in the first meeting in making the grant application as simple as possible,” Perez said.
The Safety Net Grant program consisted of three simple criteria that still met the ARPA guidelines. Organizations had to serve the Largo community (even if they operate outside city limits), they had to provide a safety net service (the critical needs listed on the Polco survey like food security, mental health, etc.), and they had to demonstrate impact from Covid-19.
Largo hired an ARPA grant manager. That manager assisted the nonprofits with any technical issues filling out their applications, which Perez says was a huge asset to the process.
The city accepted applications from August to November 2022. Funding was allocated based on revenue. Organizations received either $10,000, $15,000, $20,000, or $25,000.
Largo ARPA funding community meeting
Largo successfully delivered $650,000 to 31 critical needs organizations.
All 31 organizations that applied were approved.
The City Commission approved an increase in the Safety Net program to serve all the approved organizations. They sent $650,000 to nonprofits providing a variety of services (mental health, tutoring, food banks, support for populations with disabilities, etc.) and other populations across Largo.
Largo awarded the grants in January 2023.
To follow up on the program, get a pulse on the grants’ outcomes, and potentially discover new areas of need, Largo will conduct two more Polco ARPA surveys. In the meantime, the community housing team, grant manager, economic development, and other departments have access to the Polco data and can continue to benefit from the insights.
Largo is a shining example of how to effectively use resident feedback. The City reached out to their communities to identify the needs. Then they followed up on the survey with in-person meetings to verify and add more context to the results. From there, they listened to what residents said and reported back. The process resulted in financial support for the organizations that proved to be a crucial safeguard for the community and ultimately improved the quality of life in Largo.
How To Engage Your Community For The Best Results
Largo put ARPA funds to best use by connecting to their residents. Community engagement data boosts knowledge and takes the guesswork out of decision-making for government leaders. Lean how community engagement can help your organization and connect with one of our experts.