By Michael “the Grantmaster” Penzotti
The FEMA homepage now has Get Ready Guides posted and workshops are scheduled into the end of the month. These indications make me believe that applications are going to open in the next week or two for the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) program. Everything in this article is based on the presentations from the FEMA regional meetings. Of course this is all subject to change when the Program Guide is published just days prior to grant applications opening. So before we dig into this year’s program, let’s review the basics.
1) Read and understand the program guide. This is the “law and final word” on the program.
2) Make sure that the project you are applying for falls into the highest priorities of this year’s programs.
3) If you have questions, don’t guess; call the help desk.
4) Solve problems in the application as you go. Don’t put in placeholders to allow you to continue working, then plan on going back later to fix them. Many times these placeholders are missed, and the critical data they represent ends up skewing your scoring.
5) For the narrative portions, use your own information and tell your own story. Don’t cut and paste from a neighboring department application or other sources on the internet. Tell the story, firefighter to firefighter. Tell the whole story and don’t leave any questions unanswered.
6) Once your application is submitted, it’s too late to change. Proof read, review data and triple check your work. Have someone else check everything prior to submission.
This year’s program is funded at $288,828,075. The new funding allocations are: not less than 25 percent goes to career, not less than 25 percent goes to volunteer, not less than 25 percent goes to combination, and not less than 10 percent goes to open competition. There are also changes to the department matching fund requirements. For populations less than 20,000, the 5 percent department match remains unchanged. For 20,000 to 1 million populations, the department match is now 10 percent. For populations over 1 million, the department, match is now 15 percent.
The scoring process is the same as last year, with 50 percent computer and 50 percent peer review. The combination of their scores puts you in the funding order. Also again this year, if you have a project on your application that does not score well at computer review, the project will be dropped. It will not be scored at peer review and not affect your overall score or chances for an award for the remaining projects.
The vehicle category has now been opened to allow for regional applications and fire academies. So if you want to share a vehicle with one or more departments or get one at your local academy, there is that opportunity. Keep in mind that like in previous years, unless you have a NFPA 1002 or equivalent driver program, including NFPA 1582 physicals, or are asking for funding for them in the grant, you are not going to get a vehicle funded. Just like any other area of the program, assure that you are asking for the highest priority vehicle in your community class.
The System for Award Management (SAM) is now mandated for the AFG program. It’s been reported that without SAM registration, you will not be able to complete or submit this year’s application. SAM is a registry that collects all government grantees in one central location. In the past, this has been the Central Contractor Registry (CCR). If you are already registered and current in the CCR, you are current and registered with SAM.
While waiting for the program guide and applications to open, get all of your financial data, call volumes and community characteristics work done. When applications open, you will not have so much work to do. Firefighters usually wait for the bell to drop prior to getting to work. In the grants world, this work ahead of time can save your project when things get a little busy the last week of applications with a super storm, large indent or just life getting in the way.
Michael Penzotti is a volunteer firefighter with 30 years of field experience. He has held both administrative and line offices in his department. He has 19 years of technical writing experience in engineering and funding fields and is the owner of Grantmasters Inc. Grantmasters has secured over $11 million dollars in grant awards and enjoys a success rates typically four times the national average. For questions pertaining to this article Michael can be reached via his Web site at www.grantmastersinc.com
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