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Pandemic Recovery Focus Groups Reveal Lessons Learned for the Next Crisis



The North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office (NCPRO) and the ncIMPACT Initiative at the UNC School of Government have released the findings from a statewide series of pandemic recovery focus groups. The new report includes regional feedback on the effectiveness of relief and recovery programs, remaining challenges or concerns, and recommendations for continuing to build more resilient communities.


More than 500 people across the state voiced interest in joining a focus group. From this pool, NCPRO and ncIMPACT selected over 100 participants consisting of local government, business, and civic leaders for 16 regionally organized discussions, in person or virtually, through February and March of 2024. The goal was to identify areas of highest concern and help guide policymakers on next steps in North Carolina’s recovery.


“The pandemic was an unprecedented test for our local communities, and their experiences have provided us valuable insight,” said Stephanie McGarrah, Executive Director of NCPRO. “By understanding the successes and challenges of previous initiatives, we can build a stronger future, whatever it may bring.”


Some of the most common and urgent themes from the report include:

  • Housing security is the most cited concern. All 16 focus groups identified affordable housing as a top concern that existed before the pandemic and persists today. While rental assistance programs and the federal eviction moratorium were heralded as saving tens of thousands of North Carolinians from homelessness, many participants said the situation remains precarious, especially as these programs ended. Several sessions also emphasized the importance of addressing housing as a basic need before other issues can be addressed, especially during a crisis, due to its interconnectedness with health, and social and economic wellbeing.


  • Internet access should be a local and state priority. COVID-19 highlighted gaps in broadband infrastructure, while simultaneously emphasizing its strength in providing access to vital information, telehealth, remote learning, and business needs. Participants appreciated the various federal and state programs that provided stop-gap solutions, such as wi-fi hotspots for students, but would like to see more investment moving forward.


  • Childcare is community care. Childcare was also a top concern in nearly every region, with half identifying it as a barrier to economic development. Some focus group participants observed the shuttering of childcare facilities during the pandemic, and the impending “cliff” for expiring childcare subsidies that may lead to more closures soon. They noted that parents can’t work if they can’t secure affordable, reliable childcare.

The full report was recently released to government policymakers and is now available to the public online. It also includes individual summaries for each of the 16 focus group regions, identifying issues and trends at the local level.


“I am so grateful to all the people who volunteered to share their time and thoughts with us,” said Anita Brown-Graham, Director of the ncIMPACT Initiative. “I am also grateful to the regional councils of government for working with us to ensure that we heard from voices in every corner of the state on what worked, what didn’t, and what remains to be done in pandemic recovery. We learned a lot.


The focus groups were funded by a federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

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