Wanted: Grant writers
With Congress poised to pass the remaining federal funding bills for fiscal year 2007 without money earmarked for certain projects, local governments will need to find other ways to finance community programs. “We have our work cut out for us,” says Angel Wright-Feldman, Raleigh, N.C., senior staff analyst, adding that the city manager’s office is now training more people to apply for competitive grants.
The new chairmen of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees — Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis. — plan to complete 12 unfinished funding bills for the current fiscal year by passing a yearlong joint resolution not to earmark, or set aside, money for specific programs or projects in states and local communities. The resolution likely will keep funding mostly level with the 2006 budget, but the actual amounts the federal agencies will receive has not been set yet.
Besides earmarks, cities and counties can secure federal funding for projects from competitive grants offered by federal agencies or through state governments, says Roger Gwinn president of The Ferguson Group, a Washington lobbying firm representing large and small counties. Typically, more money is available to local governments through grants, but they have to work harder to find and effectively apply for them, according to Patrick Urich, county administrator for Peoria County, Ill. “Many local governments are very concerned. Earmarks represent a very important aspect of securing federal money for projects in our communities,” he says. “If the earmark process gets shut down, it’s hard to continue those projects.”
In Raleigh, a program to secure interoperable communications equipment for emergency responders was set to receive a significant amount of money under the appropriations bill that did not get passed before the 109th Congress adjourned. “We’ll now have to look elsewhere for those funds,” Wright-Feldman says.
Urich and Wright-Feldman both recommend that local governments train their staffs to look for available grants and to write effective applications. Local government associations can help communities, especially smaller ones with fewer resources, learn about what grants are available, Urich says. They also recommend forming relationships and working closely with communities’ Congressional delegations.
Successfully obtaining grants often means “not just responding to calls for grants available, but being active in the appropriations process,” Gwinn says. “Local governments need to work with agencies to encourage them to continue funding projects that have received support from the appropriations process in the past and from the federal agencies in the past.”
Local governments should get used to the idea of expanding their search for federal funds, says Wright-Feldman, who expects earmarks will be shaky for the next couple of years. The new Democratic-controlled Congress has vowed to reform the earmark process, which it claims has gotten out of hand. Byrd and Obey have said the moratorium on earmarks will continue until Congress comes up with some reforms.
The author is the Washington correspondent for American City & County.