Updates for the 2014 Assistance to Firefighters Grant

 

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

 

 

At the recent FRI–IAFC convention in Dallas, officials from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program put on a town hall-style meeting and presented some information that will be useful to all of those who wish to apply to the program in 2014.

 

When is the 2014 program going to open and what should I be doing right now?

 

It would appear from the information related at FRI, and from our inquiries at the program office, that the 2014 AFG program will open for applications on Nov. 3, 2014.

 

Now please note, this is a "tentative" date and is not cast in stone at this time.

 

The final date won’t be set until the FOA is officially published. For planning purposes though, count on this date as being your opening date for you to submit.

 

What about SAFER and FP&S? As an FYI, program officials are predicting that both the 2014 SAFER and the FP&S programs will not be open for applications until early 2015.

 

That means that you should be actively developing your applications at this time.

 

Note for current clients I would like to remind our current clients that if you are planning on submitting a 2014 AFG application, you should be making contact with me immediately to pick your project and start developing your application. DO NOT WAIT till the program opens to start work on this and then expect that we will have time to review, edit and comment on your application. The early bird gets the worm here, so plan accordingly.

 

For those of you who are not currently clients but are contemplating using our services in developing your application this year, you also should not delay in contacting us now to get the process started for you. We have a limited amount of time slots to set aside each year to help just so many clients. Those slots fill quickly. Don’t delay, call today!

 

So how much money does AFG have and for what?

 

For this year and 2015, the breakdown of the money Congress has allocated for AFG, SAFER, and FP&S is as follows:

 

  • 2014 and 2015 Assistance to Firefighters Grant money available = $306,000,000
  • 2014 and 2014 Fire Prevention & Safety Grant money available = $34,000,000
  • 2014 and 2015 SAFER program total money = $340,000,000

 

In terms of the AFG program the funding allocation breakdown goes something like this:

 

  • 75% goes to the Operations and Safety side of the program, with an equal share of 25% to career, combination and volunteer departments
  • Up to 25% can be used for vehicle acquisition
  • Speaking of vehicles, starting with the 2014 AFG program, used vehicles will no longer be eligible for AFG money
  • 2% goes to non-affiliated EMS agencies
  • 3% goes to State Fire Training Academies (official list here: www.usfa.fema.gov/pocs/

 

What is the status on the 2013 AFG awards?

 

In the 2013 program there were 10,652 applications received by the program office. Of those:

 

  • 4,985 were form volunteer departments
  • 2,933 were from combination departments
  • 1,972 from all paid career departments
  • 762 from paid-on-call departments

 

According to our calculations and research, as of August 15, 2014, there have been a total of 1,818 awards given, which is broken down as follows:

 

  • Operations and Safety: 1,588 awards totaling $185,171,573
  • Vehicle Acquisition: 200 awards totaling $49,594,773
  • State Fire Training Academies: 30 awards totaling $8,143,666

 

What is the "big deal" about with the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) Super Circular we keep hearing about?

 

Starting with the 2014 award cycle, all agencies that are eligible to receive an award from ANY federal grant program will need to have a "written procurement policy" that governs their procurement process and which at minimum complies with the federal requirements set forth and listed in 44CFR 13.36 or 2 CFR 200.318.

 

So what does that mean to me? It means that everyone, right now, should be looking at your local procurement policy and assuring that it meets those minimum federal requirements.

 

If you don’t have a written procurement policy, specifically for your department, then you must either have one fashioned for you and put it on file, or you can look to formally adopt and mandate usage of a local city, county, or state procurement policy, as long as that policy also meets the minimum federal requirements spelled out in those documents listed above.

 

This is not something you can ignore.

 

If you do not meet this requirement, you cannot receive any federal grant award!

 

This is not something to put on the back burner until you wait to see if you get a grant award. The process of setting up the procurement policy can take several months to accomplish before something legal is in place.

 

If you get an award notice, you only have 30 days to accept the award. If you cannot demonstrate that you meet this requirement, then you will be passed by. Your award will go to someone who has complied with the new requirement.

 

What you do not want to do is blindly trust that whatever process you have been using in the past, will still pass muster after December 2014. Do not assume that just because you used a State or a County procurement policy in the past, that it meets the standards that are now being stated in those documents. Check and be sure, as it is your award that will suffer the consequences of being out of compliance.

 

What other federal requirements do I need to be concerned with?

 

Many departments are still having problems with the requirements for DUNS number and registration at SAM.gov. The biggest problem still seems to be that departments do not have the exact same information recorded in DUNS as they do in SAM.gov. This is a 2-step process to complete, and you cannot do it out of order.

 

You must first ascertain what your DUNS number is and exactly how the information about your department is listed. For example, is it listed as the "ABC Fire Company" or "ABC VFC"? Is it "City of Burbank Fire Department" or "Burbank, City of Fire Department"? Once you have determined that all information in your DUNS record is correct and up to date, then and only then do you want to go to SAM.gov and get registered using the exact same information.

 

But you are not done yet. This is not a one-and-done deal here.

 

Both DUNS and SAM.gov require verifications of existing information. Now think about this for a moment. If you went in now, checked, and got everything right, then in November applied for AFG, it is conceivable and possible that your grant award might not occur until September 2015, which would be more than 12 months since you checked that information. DUNS and SAM.gov require an update and verification, at minimum, of once every 12 months.

 

Boom.

 

And then there you are, waiting for a grant award and being delayed in getting it because you did not check as required.

 

I just had a client who received an 1199a update which indicated he was set to get an award from 2013 AFG. It was just this week that FEMA called, and he discovered that he had the wrong Employer Identification Number on his 1199a. It did not match what was in SAM.gov. This one error has been holding up his award now for over 90 days.

 

Oh, and by the way, are you still dealing with a SAFER award that is 2-4 years old, or an FP&S award where you are drawing down money? If your SAM.gov account goes into "update or verify information status" and you do not catch it and be sure you are "current," you will not be able to draw down your funding.

 

Best policy? Check and be sure.

 

What about reporting requirements?

 

While we are on the subject of complying with federal requirements, let’s touch base here for a moment on "reporting requirements".

 

Do you have a grant that has not been closed out? If you fail to file your semi-annual and annual performance reports, or the required SF425 financial forms, on June 30 and December 31, well, then 90 days later (if you still have money left to draw down on those grants) you will be locked out of your money until such time as you get the reports filed and they have been accepted.

 

No, it does not matter that AFG may not have the closeout document form available yet for you to close that grant out. If your grant is not in "closed grant status," then you must file the reports. That also applies to NFIRS reporting for fire departments. No reports, no money!

 

Failure to comply with the reporting requirements can also be cause for AFG to reject a submitted application and/or to prevent you from filing a future application.

 

No excuses now! Managing the grant is half the job, so do it right!

 

What about cost sharing?

 

Cost sharing for the 2014 and 2015 program is determined by your first due population and is currently set in this manner:

 

  • 15% for populations over 1 million
  • 10% for population of 20,000 to 1 million
  • 5% for populations of less than 20,000
  • 5% for the FP&S grant regardless of population

 

What happened with the "micro-grants" introduced in 2013 AFG?

 

The final totals are not all in as of this writing. However, we can tell you that there were somewhere between 1,300-1,400 "micro-grants" submitted. Based upon what we know from our own clients here at First Responder Grants, the micro-grants were greatly successful.

 

Interviews with AFG program officials also seem to indicate that they are viewing the program as a success. It is expected that the micro-grants will be back in the 2014 and 2015 AFG.

 

The whole idea behind the micro-grants is to spread what AFG money is available out among more departments. This approach lets more departments get a piece of the pie, so to speak. In my honest opinion, this tactic is particularly geared towards smaller, rural volunteer and combination fire departments with smaller call volumes and smaller populations. These departments typically have a hard time scoring high enough to make it past the computer competitive range scoring, and receiving an adequate score from the peer panel, to end up with a mean grant score high enough to be in the award rounds.

 

Want to take go for a micro-grant? Then follow these 3 simple rules:

 

  • Remember that the federal share limit for the project cannot be any higher than $25,000 Additional scoring consideration will be given to those departments who have not received an AFG award during the last 3 years (no award since 2010 for those of you trying to do the math).
  • Pick a project seeking only a "HIGH" priority item
  • That last thing applies not to only the micro-grants but to the entire AFG program.

 

Plain and simple here folks: If you insist upon going for a "Medium or Low" priority item, you will most certainly receive the dreaded "Dear John" rejection notice. You will more than likely not even make it past computer scoring into the competitive range.

 

For those of you grant writers who are not in "Top Dog" status as far as choosing the project to go after, sit down with your chief or board prior to ever putting pen to paper. Drive this point home with a sledge hammer if you have to. Going after anything that is not a "High" priority is an absolute total waste of a grant application.

 

It is always better to get 80% of something than 100% of nothing!

 

What is this I am hearing about Ballistic Protection Equipment (BPE) being eligible for AFG this year?

 

Let me just say something first about this hot topic. There is a huge difference between something being eligible on a program and it being marked as a "High" priority. Please refer back to the last paragraph. Remember to read what I said about only going after "High" priority projects. BPE will NOT be rated as a "High" priority!

 

There are just too many moving parts here right now to make this work right. There need to be rules and regulations established, and there are many facets of this conundrum which must first be examined, researched, and worked out prior to seeing this being something that AFG will prioritize as being "High".

 

We have to give AFG time to wrap their heads and arms around this prior to opening the flood gates and just saying we will fund bulletproof vests for firefighters. Give this idea a year or so for them to bounce around a little and play with, before expecting that you will be successful choosing this project.

 

If you absolutely, positively have true and immediate need for these items, you can always turn to your State Homeland Security Grant program, which already funds these items frequently.

 

In closing

 

The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program remains the primary grant finding program for all fire departments and non-affiliated EMS agencies to apply to, regardless of size or make-up.

 

It is still a robust program funded at $306,000,000 this year and next. Can you think of a reason why you shouldn’t be going after your piece of that pie? You don’t have to be a Cordon Bleu Culinary School graduate to bake a pie and get a slice. You just have to read and follow directions carefully!

 

Remember: don’t ever trade professional experience and knowledge for luck. We here at First Responder Grants deal with these programs 24/7/365. Get out there and attend one of our classes, or sign up for our Annual Grant Services Program subscription service. It’s more budget-friendly than you might think, and the payback can be worth 300-400 times the original investment.

 

It does not cost you a single dime to call and talk to us about your needs, and we will be glad to give a free evaluation of your needs and tell you how we can assist you.

 

Fill out a contact form here, or call Kurt at 863-551-9598.

 

Photo: Jerry OConnor