It’s that time of year again where folks from fire departments and emergency medical services (EMS) communities need to start thinking about Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program. For those who aren’t familiar with the program, AFG provides funding for fire departments, EMS, and to a lesser extent State Fire Training Academies to fund projects ranging from training, equipment acquisition, facilities improvements, vehicles, micro grants for small projects, and large-scale regional projects. It is a very well-administered and well-funded program with over $300,000,000 available in this year’s competition alone! However, it is a competitive program and not everyone who applies will win.
There are a number of things to consider before you begin constructing your application; first and foremost: eligibility. FEMA defines eligible applicants as the following:
- A Fire Department (career, combination, volunteer), defined as an agency/organization having a formally recognized arrangement with a state, local, or tribal authority to provide fire suppression to a population within a fixed geographical area on a first-due response basis
- Non-affiliated EMS Departments, defined as a public or private nonprofit emergency medical service organization providing direct emergency medical services including transport, but not affiliated with a hospital.
- State Fire Training Academies, defined as the primary state fire training academy, a listing of which can be found at http://www.usfa.fema.gov/fireservice/
Unlike many federal grant programs that restrict eligibility based on geography and population, AFG is open to applicants that reside in urban, suburban, and rural locations. However, award amounts are capped based on populations. These caps are as follows:
- Jurisdictions serving 100,000 or fewer people cannot be awarded more than $1,000,000 in a fiscal year
- Jurisdictions serving 100,000 or more people cannot be awarded more than $2,000,000 in a fiscal year
- Jurisdictions serving more than 500,000 but not more than 1,000,000 people cannot be awarded more than $3,000,000 in a fiscal year
- Jurisdictions serving more than 1,000,000 people but not more than 2,500,000 people cannot be awarded more than $6,000,000 for any fiscal year, but is subject a one percent aggregate cap of $3,209,200
- Jurisdictions serving more than 2,500,000 people but not more than 2,500,000 people cannot be awarded more than $6,000,000 for any fiscal year, but is subject a one percent aggregate cap of $3,209,200
Additionally, population plays a role in the required cash match. This cash match is broken down in the following fashion:
- Jurisdictions serving less than 20,000 people are required to put up a 5% match of the grant awarded
- Jurisdictions serving more than 20,000 people, but less than 1,000,000 people are required to put up a 10% match of the grant awarded
- Jurisdictions serving more than 1,000,000 people are required to put up a 15% match of the grant awarded
While an applicant is not required to have the cash match in hand at the time the application is submitted (nor even at the time of award), FEMA will contact potential grantees to determine whether they have the cash match on hand or that they have a feasible plan to fulfill the matching requirement. It’s always a good idea to work your budget up well in advance of formally applying to the program so you can determine your matching requirement. Once you’ve calculated your matching requirement, now comes the hard part-confirming with your management that your organization will be able to meet the match. The sooner you can determine if you have support for the match, the better. Constructing your application without confirmation of the matching funds is a gamble, if not negligent. There is nothing worse than taking the time and energy to construct a quality application only to find that there are no matching funds available to satisfy the match.
In terms of application construction for AFG, generally speaking, it’s fairly straight forward. The application asks for basic demographic information and statistics about your organization, along with a narrative and a budget.
The narrative piece is where most applicants get hung up, but it’s not too bad if you break it apart into smaller, manageable chunks. You’ll need to think about the following questions:
- What is your organization’s financial need for the project?
- Why can’t your organization fund this project on its own?
- Besides applying to AFG, what other efforts have you made to obtain the funding?
- What organizational capabilities have been reduced or eliminated due to budgetary limitations?
When you’re providing an explanation to these questions you’ll want to provide as strong evidence as possible to show that the financial shortcomings you describe are out your organization’s control and that Federal assistance is required.
Tips and resources
Here are a couple of other pointers that should help you pull together the strongest application possible:
- Follow the Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) to the letter. Failure to follow instructions will almost certainly disqualify your application.
- Maintain consistency throughout the application
- Avoid overly flowery text (including anecdotal or unsubstantiated claims), and use as much data as possible to present a clear need
- Have an outside party edit your narrative for style and grammar. The people closely involved in crafting of the narrative can overlook simple mistakes
The AFG program office maintains a site that has great materials to help applicants prepare their application: http://www.fema.gov/assistance-firefighters-grant . I strongly suggest that prospective applicants visit the site and review the materials they provide-they’re invaluable! You can also find a lot of good info at Grants Office's fire grants information site, www.firegrants.info
Finally, completed applications need to be submitted via FEMA’s E-grant Application Portal. You’ll need to make an account for the Portal if you don’t already have one. Also you’ll need to obtain your organization’s Duns and Bradstreet (DUNS) number and a System for Award Management (SAM) account. These registrations can take some time to set up and activate, so it’s a good idea to take care of these as soon as possible.
You can put your organization in a position of strength by preparing and doing your due diligence before the application period opens!