For those that haven’t been able to get to one of the pre-shutdown Department of Homeland Security (DHS) workshops on the Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG), or hit one of the online webinars, there were some changes instituted for the 2013 program that might alter your ideas about applications and projects that you’ll want to know about. The application period is Nov. 4 through Dec. 6 and the program guidelines were released this week.
I'll probably mention it several times in this article, but like I’ve always said and it warrants repeating until everyone gets it: proper assessments and project design are application independent! So regardless of what changed with AFG, what you need and why you need it are the same yesterday as they are today. The changes in what you’re allowed to apply for in AFG, how the money is split, and everything else in this program has nothing to do with the base fact that your department needs what it needs. You need to figure that out long before grant periods open. But let’s cover those changes first and then I’ll go over what the changes mean for the various applicants and your potential projects.
One of the changes that kicked in before the awards started flowing for 2012 AFG was that applicant tracking moved from the Central Contractor Registry (CCR) to the System for Award Management (SAM). All applicants are required to be registered in this system before applying, and keeping up with the renewal process as these registrations “expire” every year. I put expire in quotes because you don’t need to re-enter everything every year, just review each screen, update what needs updating, or just save until you submit it again.
The same requirement exists for Dun & Bradstreet numbers. All applicants must have those along with a valid Employer Identification Number (EIN) or sometimes called a Tax ID. This is what your accountants would be filing your annual returns to the IRS under for your organization. Unlike many rumors that have been floating around for years, reporting to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) is not required prior to submitting an application, but it is required if you are awarded for the Period of Performance of your grant.
The Allocation of Money for 2013 AFG
The old split of the program was that career departments were in a pool that was up to 48% of the available funding, while combination/volunteer departments would split at least 52% of the funding, with combinations garnering 33 percent and volunteers 19 percent. Statistics seemed to show that career departments never really put in that many applications, and also that combination departments were getting unfairly judged. These are not new developments either. The Criteria Development Committee made up of fire service members were making recommendations as far back as 2009. These changes were not a knee-jerk reaction to anything sudden, the shutdown, or anything else. There are valid reason for these changes.
Based on the reported total award money amount of $320,920,083 for 2013 AFG the breakdown will now be:
25% to combination departments – In the past they were lumped with volunteer departments and since you have some paid members, the budgets and financials often hurt you going against all the volunteer departments with similar or smaller budgets. Now there is a big chunk ($80,230,021) set aside just for you where your financials and everything else will be judged on an equal playing field.
25% to volunteer departments – Departments with smaller run numbers and lower populations will have more of a fighting chance for the $80,230,021 since they are now in a section with fair competition.
25% to career departments – This is the part where change might appear bad, but this is more in line with application totals from the past. They are now eligible for $80,230,021.
10% is up for grabs – This is an open lot for all three types of departments that don’t score high enough to get a piece of the 25% of the separated funding. Type of department will not play into the scoring for $32,092,008, just like it has been in the past.