6 Takeaways From the Latest Guidance on the American Rescue Plan Act
By: Francesca El Attrash-Ukaejiofo on April 1, 2021

On March 19, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memorandum for the heads of executive departments and federal agencies (M-21-20).

This memo was released to give guidance to federal agencies to foster accountability and public trust by delivering effective and equitable relief, while implementing sound financial management of the resources funding that relief. This will include working with the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC) and agency Inspector Generals to strengthen payment integrity so governments can minimize the risk of waste, fraud, and abuse. Additionally, the guidance aims to help governments improve the overall award and administration of financial assistance programs with an increased focus on human-centered program and service design to achieve more equitable results.

Reducing Administrative Burden on Funding Recipients

In an attempt to help governments receive and distribute funding faster amidst the urgency of the pandemic, Appendix 3 of the OMB memo gives guidance to agencies on how they can reduce administrative burden on recipients’ performance and deliverables. The guidance applies not only to COVID-19 related awards, but also non-COVID-19 related awards.

The guidance is directed to the executive department and federal agencies by OMB in accordance with Uniform Guidance 2 CFR 200. Agencies may allow these exceptions as they deem appropriate and to the extent permitted by law.

Here are six of the 12 areas of guidance given to federal awarding agencies that will affect recipient awards:

1. Flexibility with SAM/recertification

Federal awarding agencies may relax the timing of the requirement for active SAM registration at time of application to expeditiously issue funding. At the time of award, the requirements of 2 CFR § 200.206, the federal awarding agency’s review of risk posed by applicants continue to apply. Current registrants in SAM with active registrations expiring between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021 will automatically be afforded a one-time extension of 180 days.

2. Waiver for Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) Publication

Awarding agencies may publish emergency and competitive NOFOs for grants and cooperative agreements for less than 30 days without separately justifying shortening the timeframe for each NOFO. Recipients, however, will need to monitor funding opportunities and be prepared to compile an application in a shortened amount of time.

3. No-cost extensions on expiring awards

To the extent permitted by law, awarding agencies may extend awards that were active as of March 31, 2021 and scheduled to expire prior or up to December 31, 2021–automatically at no cost for a period of up to 12 months. This will allow time for recipient assessments, the resumption of many individual projects, and a report on program progress and financial status to agency staff. Project-specific financial and performance reports will be due 90 days following the end date of the extension. Awarding agencies will examine the need to extend other project reporting as the need arises. Recipients should contact their awarding agencies for information.

4. Abbreviated non-competitive continuation requests

For non-competitive continuation requests scheduled between April 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021, awarding agencies may accept a brief statement from recipients to verify that they are in a position to: (i) resume or restore their project activities and (ii) accept a planned continuation award. Agencies must post any specific instructions on their website as well as examine the need to extend this approach on subsequent continuation award start dates as recipients have an opportunity to assess the situation.

5. Extension of Single Audit submission

Awarding agencies, in their capacity as cognizant or oversight agencies for audit, should allow recipients and subrecipients that have not yet filed their single audits with the Federal Audit Clearinghouse as of the date of the issuance of this memorandum that have fiscal year-ends through June 30, 2021, to delay the completion and submission of the Single Audit reporting package, as required under Subpart F of 2 CFR § 200.501 to six months beyond the normal due date. Recipients and subrecipients taking advantage of this extension would still qualify as a "low-risk auditee" under the criteria of 2 CFR § 200.520.

Recipients with fiscal year-ends through June 30, 2021, will receive a six-month extension beyond the normal due date to submit to the Federal Audit Clearinghouse. Findings within the six-months after normal due date will not cause the entity to lose their ‘low-risk auditee’ designation.

6. Flexibility with application deadlines

Awarding agencies may provide flexibility with regard to the submission of competing applications in response to specific announcements, as well as unsolicited applications, presuming these exceptions do not negatively impact underserved communities. As appropriate, agencies should list specific guidance on their websites and provide a point of contact for an agency program official.