U.S. Department of Commerce Launches $1.5 Billion Program with AEC Impact

Published: May 14, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic

As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the U.S. Department of Commerce was allocated $1.5 billion for economic development assistance programs to help communities prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus. The funds will be administered by the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Economic Adjustment Assistance (EAA) program. This program has funding for projects of interest to the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industries.

According to the EAA, it can assist state and local entities in responding to a wide range of economic challenges through:

  • Strategy Grants to support the development, updating or refinement of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS).
  • Implementation Grants to support the execution of activities identified in a CEDS, such as infrastructure improvements, including site acquisition, site preparation, construction, rehabilitation and equipping of facilities. Specific activities may be funded as separate investments or as multiple elements of a single investment.

Grants will be awarded to successful applications on a rolling basis.  Every community in the nation is eligible; however, the EDA emphasizes that applications must be for projects that explicitly prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus or respond to economic injury as a result of coronavirus.  Eligible applicants include state and local governmental entities, institutions of higher education, not for-profit entities, and federally recognized tribes.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Contractors interested in working with applicants on projects that are in the spirit of the EAA guidelines should review the role of the EDA in disaster recovery.  Given the nature of the pandemic, all critical infrastructure sector operators should be eligible for funding in partnership with the appropriate state, local, and educational entities in whose jurisdictions they reside.

The CDC has already produced a guide to help operators plan and achieve the following goals:

  • Maintain healthy business operations
  • Reduce transmission among employees and the public
  • Maintain a healthy work environment

Per the CDC guide, eligible projects would likely include facilities improvements intended to:

  • Provide special accommodations (e.g., telework, reassignment of duties to minimize contact with others) for employees who are members of a vulnerable population.
  • Pre-screen employees (e.g., measuring the employee’s temperature and assessing symptoms of COVID-19 prior to starting work) and perform regular medical monitoring (e.g., the employee should self-monitor for symptoms or follow up with the employer’s occupational health program) of exposed workers.
  • Ensure exposed workers wear a facemask or cloth face covering in accordance with CDC and OSHA guidance and any state or local requirements.
  • Implement social distancing to minimize the chances of workers exposing one another, including:
    • Work with facility maintenance staff to enhance ventilation by increasing air exchanges in rooms.
    • Modify workstation layouts to ensure all employees remain at least six feet apart.
    • Close common areas where employees are likely to congregate and interact or enforce social distancing protocols and use other methods to physically separate employees.
    • Increase the frequency of cleaning frequently touched surfaces and shared objects to minimize the potential for cross contamination; for example, clean before and after shifts or immediately before and after the use of shared objects.