The Fund Finder News, by Kurt Bradley, Certified Grants Consultant

 

 

A national election year is upon us once again. I can already hear you screaming at the top of your lungs, “Politics have no place in public safety!” I couldn’t agree with you more... but the reality is that the federal and state grant system is a political football. If you want to win, here’s how to play.

 

Are Your Representatives Making You a Happy Taxpayer?

 

Anyone not willing to admit that politics has a role in Federal and State grants, is fooling themselves badly. Remember: grant money comes from your Federal and state income taxes that you pay. In addition to paying for all the Federal Agencies and military that we have, grants are the distribution system for those taxes that get your roads repaved, new sewer and water treatment plants, schools funded, social programs, health programs and they are frequently what funds your local public safety agencies. In effect, each time you win a grant, you are not only recovering your own citizen’s tax dollars but, you are getting every taxpayer in the U.S. to invest a little money into your community.

 

Every U.S. Congressional representative maintains an office in Washington D.C. and usually a local office in their particular district where their constituents live. These offices are staffed with persons who are the “flies on the wall” and the “direct line to that representative”. It is their job to try and make sure that you, as a constituent, are a happy camper.

 

Find the “Grants Person”

 

One of the people on most US Congressional representatives staff is almost always designated as the “grants liaison” person. It is their job to assist their constituents in applying for Federal assistance. Your department and its members are those constituents.

 

Whenever you apply for a federal grant, it is a good idea to keep that person informed of this fact. You never know when your Congressman or Senator will be having lunch with someone who is on the committee dealing with a particular Federal grant program. They may be on the House Budget Appropriations committee, or on a DHS task force or committee.

 

Know Who They Are and Keep Them in the Know

 

These are all people you should make a point of knowing. Keep them advised of your department’s unfulfilled needs. You should also always advise them when you have applied for a Federal grant program and that you have an application under consideration.

 

For example, our policy is always to send a copy of your completed grant application to them, along with a cover letter asking for them to submit a Letter of Support or to solicit any other assistance they can to garner a favorable consideration of that application. Always respectfully ask for them to assist your department’s application in any way that they can.

 

Getting What You Need Makes Them Look Good

 

Remember, these are elected officials. Having a new fire truck or communication center in your town funded, through a Federal program, is a surefire way to have happy voters in the polls on Election Day.

 

At the same time, you need to also remember that if they do not know you have a problem, and are seeking Federal assistance, they cannot do anything for you. That’s why it’s important to tell your representatives about the issues your department faces.

 

It Is All About Networking

 

You should know the grant staff person on a first-name basis. In times of stress for your department, this person can be a literal lifeline.

 

If they don’t know it is broke, they will not pick up the phone and come begging for you to apply for this money. But if you call them, they can be a valuable resource to you and often can direct you to assistance which you may otherwise have overlooked or ignored. I always try to let the local Congressional staff person know exactly what projects I am trying to find funding for and how much I am in need of.

 

These persons are not only a vital link in your grant chain, but they can also be an extremely valuable resource for finding other grant programs at the state and local levels that you may not even be aware of. It can pay off really big for you to be on their phone and mailing lists, so you are notified whenever there is money available for various needs.

 

The key here is to get the jump on others and extend your lead time to properly prepare your application. Gaining an extra week of lead time on a grant deadline is a luxury few of us ever get to take advantage of.

 

Wasted Pork or Vital Earmark?

 

Congressional intervention can also make the difference when you have been rejected for a grant and you absolutely, positively have to have this project funded. Having an established, ongoing relationship with your local Congressional representatives might just get your project placed into a “Congressional Earmark” category, which could mean a nice check to your agency for that project. These are the “pork” projects that you hear about all the time.

 

You know the ones we are talking about here. Remember the $150,000 to study “cow chips” as a viable alternative fuel? How about the “$1.5 million dollar new school” which will just happen to be named after the senator who gets that district the money to build it? See what we mean? You may not agree with the practice, but it occurs every day in Washington D.C. You may eventually be faced with no alternative other than to turn to a Congressional “pork project” to receive the funding you need.

 

The political world is filled with “political favors” all the time. Congressman “X” needs Congressman “Y’s” vote on an upcoming bill. In return for that vote, he would be asked for favorable consideration or mention of your project to receive funding.

 

Playing Political Football Matters at the State & Local Levels Too

 

Political savvy is also necessary at the State and local levels as well. If you have ever been to your State Administering Agency website, you will see that a number of Federal grant programs are strictly controlled through that agency. Each of these programs will have a program contact for these programs. Having a networking relationship with these persons is a good practice. They can also give you hints and assistance, which will make the difference in getting your project funded.

 

Know who these people are and make sure they know you. Call them frequently, have regular email contact with them, and let them know what problems you are trying to resolve. You never know when you may get a call from that person telling you about a pool of money that would be just perfect for your project. Take assertive steps to assure that you are within their networking rings. It is well worth the effort.

 

Educate Your Citizens about Your Department

 

You might be very surprised at the answers you get from local citizens when you ask them how they think the FD buys new trucks or the PD pays the salaries of their police officers.

 

Don’t take my word for it. Just ask 5 citizens in your area and see what their answers are. My guess is that if you are a volunteer fire department that runs strictly off donations and grants yearly, then more than 50% of your populace will think that you are paid with tax dollars and that you have everything that you could possibly need to do your jobs.

 

Chances are that if you are reading this, then you never even had a class in Civics in high school, since that class has for all practical purposes been deemed as “not needed” in the curriculum of today’s high schools. Subsequently not only do we have a poor showing at the polls by young adults who are eligible to vote, but we have actual candidates running for office who have no understanding whatsoever of grants, where grants come from and how grant funding is used.

 

Now let’s face it: nobody likes to see their property taxes or income taxes going any higher. However, I have yet to see a citizen whose home was saved from burning to the ground, or whose life was saved by a police officer’s heroic actions, complain about the tax increase they got that year. I have, however, seen plenty of people standing next to a pile of ashes or standing around at a funeral for a loved one, wondering why the local fire department or police took over 30 minutes to arrive.

 

It is up to you to educate your community as to what you do and how much it takes to perform those services. It is also up to you to speak up for candidates that will support your efforts and to tell people why the other guy’s plan will result in less public safety services.

 

After all, if we do not support them, how can they possibly support us?

 

Support Those Politicians Who Support DHS and Public Safety

 

Voter apathy is one of the leading causes that money for public safety and homeland security issues has been declining at a rate of 17% per year for several years now.

 

Pay attention and do some basic research. Find out which Congressional representatives and Senators fight for our dollars in our grant programs... and which ones advocate cutting back those dollars or shutting down grant programs which are designed to benefit our departments.

 

Be knowledgeable and educate others to those facts. Then, by all means, don’t forget to vote! When candidates support public safety efforts and the grant programs we use, they deserve our support.

 

That support does not require you to reach into your wallet for money, though. It requires you to reach in your wallet for your voter ID.

 

Winning the Political Football Game

 

One of our grant seminar students took this information to heart. Upon returning to his hometown, he picked up the phone and established contact with the grants person for his local Congressional member.

 

This one initial phone conversation resulted in him receiving not one, but 3 phone calls within the next month from that grants staff person.

 

Did his agency benefit? Yes. As a result of those 4 phone calls, his agency has received over $50,000 in grants and other needed funding.

 

Finding out who your Congressional representatives are and what committees they serve on is not difficult to do. Information such as this is easily located through a search on the Internet. A good place to start is the Congressional Directory: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/collection.action?collectionCode=CDIR. The other way is to look in your local phone book under the “blue pages”.

 

I know, I know, I know. We all wish that politics didn’t have a place in grants. But the fact is, it does. And the better you know the right people in local, State and Federal government, the better your chances at finding the additional funding your department needs.

 

I don’t know about you, but to me that makes playing political football more than worthwhile.

 

Photo: jvumn