A lot of people seem to have a lack of understanding concerning federal grants – what they are, to whom they are available, and how to apply for them. To make matters worse, all kinds of unscrupulous and misleading marketing is aimed at convincing consumers that they can easily receive federal grants for just about anything. This fills people’s heads with all kinds of wrong ideas about the subject, while sketchy online start ups and book dealers profit from people’s ignorance. It’s important for people to get an idea of what federal grants really so that they can make more informed decisions.
What are federal grants?
Federal grants are sums of money offered by the Federal government (as opposed to the government at the state, city or town levels) that need never be paid back. This money is given to assist organizations or individuals at the national level in engaging in various activities such as education, research, business development, public welfare, or projects of an artistic nature. Grants are to be distinguished, of course, from loans, which must be paid back along with the interest they have accrued during the borrowing period. Grant money is free and clear and need never be repayed, but there are stipulations and eligibility requirements, often stringent ones, that must be met if a party is to receive the grants.
Federal undergraduate college grants
One type of federal grant that is fairly easy for individuals to get are college grants. Naturally, these individuals have to be enrolled in a post secondary institution in order to receive these grants. There are a number of types of such grants, mainly for undergraduate study: Pell grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), Academic Competitiveness Grants (ACG), and several others. These grants are generally available to people whose incomes are low enough that contributing a significant proportion to it to college expenses is not a realistic option. They tend to have incomes in the $20,000 per year or less range. There may be other criteria that are used such as academic performance.
These grants are applied for by filling out the Federal Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA. On this form the applicant fills out information concerning their income, or that of their family if they are dependents, and the specifics of the educational programs to which they are applying. From this information the US Department of Education arrives at a number called the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). This indicates the amount of money that an individual’s family (the vast majority of undergrads are still dependent to some degree or other on their family for help funding college. In the situations where that is not the case, the “family” means the individual and his spouse and children if he has any) can contribute toward paying for the college program under consideration. If the education department decides that the EFC is below a certain limit, they usually receive the grant. In the cases where other stipulations such as academic performance are concerned, these must be satisfied as well for the grant to be approved.
Federal graduate level college grants
As far as grants for graduate students go, these are often either fellowships (basically graduate level scholarships) or research grants for specific graduate level research projects. Some of these grants come from branches of the federal government, but many also come from state government agencies and private grants foundations and endowments. These grants are much more specific in focus than the generalized undergraduate level grants mentioned above.
Other types of federal grants
There are also a large number of other grant programs offered by the federal government other than educationally based ones. But they are far from the free handouts for ordinary financial assistance that they are made out to be by slick grant website marketers and such. They are by and large grants that are offered not to individuals but organizations of either of non-profit or for profit types. They are granted for specific purposes such as various forms economic development, the arts, scientific research, social welfare, cultural enrichment and so on.
If federal grants are offered to individuals, it is usually for specific critical reasons such as disaster relief, housing, child support, health care, and so on. This is simply financial assistance for qualifying needy individuals. So unless an individual is in some critical or low income situation that qualifies them to receive these grants, or are attending college, the chances of receiving a federal grant is very low.
To make the nature of federal grants clearer, let’s look at some actual programs that are currently being offered. The reader will see that virtually none of these grants are ones that an individual in ordinary circumstances can simply apply for, unless one considers poverty and trouble meeting basic living expenses or some disastrous situation an ordinary circumstance. In theory an individual who has set themselves up as a sole proprietorship business or non-profit organization could apply for and receive one of the federal grants given to businesses if the government saw them as qualifying for it, but that might be a somewhat challenging or at least time consuming process.
Some grants currently offered by the federal government
Grants/financial assistance for individuals
Just to give a few examples and clear up the confusion, let’s look at a few grant or financial assistance programs offered by the federal government:
FEMA disaster assistance
Assistance to families and individuals who have been hit by hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and so on and who have injury or damaged property not covered by insurance. This disaster assistance is allocated for specific purposes such as temporary housing and new housing repair or construction, medical costs, clothing, heating fuels costs, cleanup, moving and storage, and so on.
Assistance for dislocated and laid off workers
Offered by the US department of labor, this program is called Rapid Response and is aimed at helping workers who have been laid off suddenly, mostly due to the recent economic upheaval. This program helps with unemployment insurance costs and education geared toward getting the laid off individual back into the workforce. Often it can be put into place before the layoff actually occurs, hence the name Rapid Response.
Telephone assistance for low income households
The Federal Communications Coalition (FCC) and other government groups such as the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) set up a program called Lifeline that helps low income households with telephone costs.
Assistance to victims of human trafficking
Assistance is offered by the Administration for Children and Families, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services, to victims of human trafficking – basically a modern day form of slavery. This can take the form of immigrants from poor countries who are promised jobs in the US and who when they arrive are basically kidnapped and made to work for free under threat of violence of expulsion from the country, etc. Believe it or not, human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world today (tied for second with illegal arms sales).
Are you beginning to get the idea? These “grants” are basically just assistance for disadvantaged families and individuals. They are not free money simply doled out because somebody has a good idea or got too far into debt. The programs that give larger grants and for more varied purposes are ones given put in place to assist organizations and businesses. So let’s take a look at a few of those.
Grants for organizations
Small Business Innovation Research Program Phase I
This is mainly a grant to encourage small farming businesses to explore innovations in agriculture. There are various areas such as forestry, food science and nutrition, animal production and protection, aquaculture, and biofuels, among many others, that the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (a subsidiary federal governmental body under the Department of Agriculture that was formed in 2008) believes warrant further research. Therefore funds are given for research of this sort.
Missouri River Recovery
The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers offer funds to help in the rehabilitee and recovery of the Missouri river. The states that are targeted are Montana and North and South Dakota.
NEA Access to Artistic Excellence, FY 2011
The National Endowment for the Arts offers grants to non-profit organizations, such as schools and community arts organizations, involved creating accessibility to the arts in communities around the nation. This can take the form of organizations that provide opportunities for artists to create, perform, or show their work, that preserve or show existing works of art that allow artists to expand their audiences, and so on.
Hopefully all of this gives the reader a better idea of what the real nature of federal grants is. They are specific, targeted forms of financial assistance that can only be applied for if the applicant meets all kinds of conditions that the government has set up when they put the grant program in place. The high likelihood is that the average individual will either qualify for no grants, or for common types of grants and benefits such as school loans and assistance for low income families.
Anyone wishing to be informed as to which grants are available should go to the website www.grants.gov . The site has a full listing of current federal grant and assistance programs.