Contrary to what books and TV ads say, the U.S. government is not giving away "free grant" money. A grant is not a Christmas present. According to
The key word there is obligations. Getting a government grant will get you loads of them and not fulfilling them will grant you a load of legal troubles.
Few Grants for Individuals: Most federal grants are awarded to organizations, institutions, and state and local governments planning major projects that will benefit specific sectors of the population or the community as a whole, for example:
- A neighborhood street paving project
- A state-wide program to re-train displaced workers
- A project to attract new businesses to a depressed downtown area
- A regional water conservation program
Organizations that get government grants are subject to strict government oversight and must meet detailed government performance standards during the duration of the project and funding period of the grant.
All project expenditures must be strictly accounted for and detailed audits are conducted by the government at least annually. All granted funds must be spent. Any money not spent goes back to the Treasury. Detailed program goals must be developed, approved and carried out exactly as specified in the grant application. Any project changes must be approved by the government. All project phases must be completed on time. And, of course, the project must be completed with demonstrable success.
Failure on the part of the grant recipient to perform under the requirements of the grant can result in penalties ranging from economic sanctions to prison in cases of improper use or theft of public funds.
By far, most government grants are applied for and awarded to other federal agencies, states, cities, colleges and universities, and research organizations. Few individuals have the money or expertise necessary to prepare adequate applications for federal grants. Most active grant-seekers, in fact, employ full time staffs to do nothing but apply for and administer federal grants.
The plain truth is that with federal funding cutbacks and competition for grants becoming more intense, seeking a federal grant always requires a lot of time and potentially a lot of money up front with no guarantee of success.
Program or Project Budget Approval
Through the annual federal budget process, Congress passes laws making money -- lots of it -- available to the various government agencies for doing major projects designed to assist some sector of the public. The projects may be suggested by the agencies, Members of Congress, the President, states, cities, or members of the public. But, in the end, Congress decides which programs get how much money.
Finding and Applying for Grants
Once the federal budget is approved, funds for the grant projects start to become available and are "announced" in the Federal Register throughout the year. Grant projects that have been announced will appear in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA). The CFDA is a listing of all grant and assistance programs (currently over 1,800) administered by the federal agencies. Best of all, searching the CFDA for grants is free. Most larger public libraries and any college library will have a current copy and, there’s always the online version.
Newly available grants programs are also announced in the Weekly Federal Funding Report, published by the House of Representatives and in the Federal Register as a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA).
Who is Eligible to Apply for Grants?
The program’s entry in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance will list which organizations or individuals are eligible to apply for the grants. The CFDA entry for all programs will also explain:
- How grant money can be used
- How to apply including detailed contact information
- How applications will be reviewed, judged and awarded
Along with the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance, the federal agencies themselves are great sources of grant availability information.
Tips and comments:
Among the long list of programs are grants for disaster housing needs from FEMA, low-interest loans from the U. S. Small Business Administration, IFG grants administered by the state of California, special Disaster Unemployment Assistance, and help from a variety of other federal, state and voluntary agencies.
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