Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

THE HAGERTY ADVANTAGE – OUR PEOPLE: TOM LEATHERBEE AND RACHEL KNOBLACH

Here at Hagerty, we truly believe the advantage is our people. Within our Recovery division, we proudly staff a team of subject matter experts (SME’s) dedicated to helping clients navigate complex federal disaster programs and secure every available funding source. Today, we highlight two of Hagerty’s Recovery professionals supporting our American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) team.

1. Tell us about yourself and how your career path led you to Hagerty Consulting.

Tom Leatherbee: After college, I ran several political campaigns and worked in the insurance industry. Most of my professional career has been in public administration within the City of Syracuse, NY, and the City of Del City, OK. During my 15 years with Del City, I worked in Planning, Community Development, Economic Development, and City Administration departments and led efforts to refocus all city activities through a lens of positive redevelopment. Del City is a tremendously flood-prone community, which led to my involvement with state and national stormwater organizations. This eventually led me to Hagerty.

Rachel Knoblach: I was in graduate school and working as a research assistant for the College of Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCCJ) at Florida State University (FSU) at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This led to my campus closing, classes being postponed, and the undergraduate courses I was teaching transitioned online. During this time, I began to look for an opportunity to support what was mounting to be an unprecedented emergency response to a global pandemic. I took an internship with an emergency management firm supporting the COVID-19 response in my community, and in the span of six months, I assisted in the development of two COVID-19-informed planning frameworks, participated in emergency response drills, supported disaster recovery projects, and processed invoices totaling over $450 million for frontline healthcare workers. After finishing my master’s program, I reached out to a former colleague about opportunities with Hagerty Consulting — a decision that would ultimately lead to a fulfilling career with this company. 

2. What do you find most rewarding about working in the field of emergency management?

Tom Leatherbee: Emergency management is a microcosm of our society and an opportunity for creative problem-solving. In Oklahoma, I played a part in creating the nation’s first volunteer flood disaster response team, which allowed me to experience, learn, and then teach about response, recovery, mitigation, and resilience. I find it particularly rewarding when policy and politics can come together to help impacted communities rebuild in a smart, sustainable way.

In my role managing several engagements within the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) portfolio, I have the opportunity to prepare detailed program design work. On any given day, I support a diverse number of projects with varying goals.

Rachel Knoblach: Working in the field of Emergency Management during the COVID-19 pandemic response creates a sense of urgency and purpose. State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial (SLTT) governments have been preparing for, responding to, and recovering from wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other disasters while actively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Every day, I have an opportunity to help a community work through challenges created and exacerbated by COVID-19. I work closely with our clients to build programs designed to deploy ARPA funds in ways that address their community’s most pressing recovery needs. This work helps communities respond to the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuild, and be better prepared on the long road to recovery.

3. How does your work as a Federal Funds Management professional support the firm’s overall mission: helping people before, during, and after disasters?

Tom Leatherbee: Federal Funds Management is an umbrella concept that includes identifying needs, prioritizing solutions, matching available funding streams, and implementing projects while focusing on effective administration and developing a robust compliance infrastructure. Effective Federal Funds Management allows a community to go beyond basic recovery efforts to seek structural and functional changes that will reduce future risk and build toward a sustainable future. Because it includes the entire funding lifecycle, from community engagement and needs assessment to program evaluation and audit, Federal Funds Management is what unites preparedness, mitigation, resilience-building, response, and recovery activities.

Rachel Knoblach: As a Federal Funds Management professional, I help our clients understand how to address their needs by pursuing these federal funding opportunities. The unprecedented funding opportunities stemming from the ARPA State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) program and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides communities across the country with the resources to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. These resources create opportunities for historic investments in broadband, transportation, and water infrastructure; mental health and housing interventions; and mitigation and resiliency planning. Communities can leverage the $1.2 trillion under the IIJA and their allocation under the $350 billion SLFRF program to amplify the impact of available resources on local response and recovery efforts.

4. How can communities best utilize their ARPA allocations?

Tom Leatherbee: ARPA, and particularly the SLFRF program, was created with two goals: to respond to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and facilitate investments that would foster future resilience. Whether designing a program to respond to a negative economic impact or scoping an eligible infrastructure project, communities should prioritize long-term solutions over the temptation of short-term successes. SLFRF program funds are some of the most flexible federal dollars ever made available to communities, which underscores the need for meaningful outreach to internal and external stakeholders to identify fundamental needs within the community. SLFRF funds should work to leverage other available funding streams, including those contained in the IIJA.

Rachel Knoblach: ARPA funding is designed to help communities respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its myriad of impacts. Governments can best utilize this opportunity by leveraging and investing in federal support from the ARPA to bridge gaps in local budgets, invest in infrastructure, and meet the needs of impacted and disproportionately impacted populations and communities. One recommended approach is to assess needs, identify resources available for each need, and prioritize funding opportunities. For example, communities interested in investing in infrastructure may use SLFRF under the revenue loss eligibility category to meet the non-federal cost share or matching requirements for a variety of programs under the IIJA.

5. What are you passionate about outside of work?

Tom Leatherbee: I have a 12-year-old who plays hockey all across North America, and I have been lucky enough to get involved as a youth hockey coach. I also have three large dogs and a small turtle who occasionally attend and contribute to project meetings.

Rachel Knoblach: On Friday nights, my home office transforms into a stained glass studio. I spend my mornings and cloudy days creating beautiful suncatchers and plant stakes. When I am not working in my studio, I enjoy walking through the woods and along the water in search of fossils, geodes, pottery, and sea glass.

To learn more about Hagerty’s Federal Funds Management services, visit our service line page here.


Tom Leatherbee is a public administrator with over 15 years of experience in planning, administration, and regulatory compliance matters. As a Senior Managing Associate at Hagerty, he has provided significant support for recovery and investment projects stemming from ARPA efforts in numerous county programs. 

Rachel Knoblach is an associate with diverse leadership experience across a variety of fields. Ms. Knoblach has contributed to a diverse portfolio of ARPA projects, and she has supported work related to ARPA program design, administration, compliance, and reporting. Ms. Knoblach has advised policymakers and industry leaders on strategic approaches from utilizing federal funds to complement existing priorities to addressing community recovery needs.