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Substance Abuse Disorder/Opioid Use Disorder (SUD/OUD): Traditional treatment versus harm reduction for grant writers

We’ve been writing Substance Use Disorder / Opioid Use Disorder (SUD/OUD) treatment grant proposals since 1993, so we’ve been at it for long enough to see waves of funder preferences around approaches come and go. SUD/OUD are hard problems, and made harder because of the misinformation and disinformation about Oxycodone and Oxycontin that Purdue Pharma and its subsidiaries spread for decades, in a way that’s likely worse than the way the cigarette companies once marketed their wares.

For the first 20 years or so in business, the SUD/OUD treatment grant proposals we wrote were usually based on the standard “Step-Down” paradigm, in which people with addiction receive treatment along a continuum of care from a high level of care and then “step down” to lower care levels in increments, leading to eventual recovery and self-care. Following engagement, referral, or self-presentation and development of an individual treatment plan (ITP), the step-down levels are more or less like this:

  • Detoxification/hospitalization
  • Inpatient treatment
  • Intensive outpatient treatment
  • Outpatient treatment, often including 12-Step peer support groups and, for those with OUD, medication assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Recovery and self-care

The levels can be further broken down, but the above is a common schema. As patients move down the treatment continuum, they usually receive case-managed wraparound supportive services—like legal assistance, workforce development, primary/dental care, affordable housing, etc.— at least until they are in recovery and have been “clean and sober” for six to twelve months. The “affordable housing” part has gotten much harder, though, because most cities use zoning laws to restrict the supply of housing, which causes prices to rise, which makes a given housing unit difficult for a grant-funded organization, or a person with drug addiction, to afford. Also, it’s an unfortunate reality that most people with SUD/OUD will relapse multiple times, sending them to the top of the treatment pyramid again. In this way, step-down treatment is something like the classic board game Chutes and Ladders I played as a kid. “Step down” was the main “treatment game” available for decades, although methadone was sometimes used for what we now call OUD.

About ten years ago, we began noticing a difference in SAMSHA, HRSA, and other RFPs for SUD/OUD: those agencies now want usually applicants to augment treatment to include “harm reduction.” As defined and described by SAMHSA, “Harm reduction is critical to keeping people who use drugs alive and as healthy as possible, and is a key pillar in the multi-faceted Health and Human Services’ Overdose Prevention Strategy.” Most of our clients resisted this shift but have gradually gotten on board the harm reduction train as pure harm reduction RFPs, like SAMHSA’s “FY ’22 Harm Reduction NOFO,” began to appear. The shift isn’t surprising, because in grant seeking it pays to follow the golden rule. No, not that golden rule, this one: “The people with the gold make the rules.”

Harm reduction projects usually involve a van-based outreach model in which Peer Support Workers (PSWs) go in teams to what are termed “hot spots” to engage people living with SUD/OUD. “Hot spots” include places like homeless encampments, shelters, parks, etc. The outreach effort can be either obvious (e.g., signage on the van and PSWs in logo t-shirts) or on the down low (e.g., plain white van and PSWs in street clothes), or a hybrid version using magnetic signs placed on the van, or removed from it, depending on the needs of a particular location on a given day. The PSWs distribute harm reduction supplies like clean syringes (with or without exchange), alcohol swabs, sterile water ampules, spoons, fentanyl test strips, sharps containers, and condoms, along with emergency food, clothing, hygiene items, and so forth. The outreach van is also used to provide some direct services in the field like wound care, rapid HIV tests, and naloxone administration.

The most extreme version of harm reduction are safe injection sites: while these are illegal in most of America because the drugs themselves are technically illegal, if widely available, three safe injection sites have recently and prominently opened, two in NYC and one in San Francisco. One key problem with a safe injection site initiative is that few businesses or residents want one near them, much like no one wants to be in proximity of a methadone clinic, so permitting is a real challenge. We’ve yet to write a safe injection site proposal but likely soon will.

A key difference between the standard treatment model and the harm reduction model is that clients are typically not tracked (when Joe or Mary shows up for supplies, their identity isn’t verified and they aren’t entered into a client database for tracking), and, most significantly, services aren’t case-managed. PSWs will offer “warm handoffs” for follow-up treatment like MAT and other center-based services, but there’s no automated follow-up from the harm reduction team.

We’re just grant writers, so we don’t have an immediate opinion as to whether step-down treatment or harm reduction is more efficacious, and most studies on the subject are somewhat questionable, although every treatment/harm reduction proposal we write claims the project design uses “evidence-based practices” (EBPs). When in doubt, claim both “evidence” and “innovation” for your program, leaving aside that those two are often mutually exclusive. If your agency provides SUD/OUD treatment, consider adding a harm reduction component, as this is clearly where the feds are going with grant funds. A cynic might conclude that the feds are pushing harm reduction because it’s much cheaper than providing longitudinal case-managed treatment, but we’ll leave that conclusion to others.

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How to prepare a DOT “Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity” (RAISE) application

NOTE: This “how to” post is a companion to “The Dept. of Transportation (DOT) issues first RFP under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law: Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE). You should probably read that post first, which was posted yesterday.

The recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) has $1T (yes, that’s a “trillion”) for a cornucopia of funding from DOT, DOE, and other Federal agencies. BIL authorizes grants for an array of infrastructure projects, including lead water pipe replacement, high-speed internet, transportation and public transit, airports, passenger rail, electric-vehicle charging stations, electric utility infrastructure, environmental remediation, and the development of time machines (okay, I made up the last entry to see if you’re paying attention).

DOT just issued the first RFP under the new BIL (see note and link above), and a flood of other infrastructure RFPs will be published in the coming months: do as much as can be reasonably be completed in advance, even though you won’t know the specific requirements until the RFP is available. Follow these action steps and you’ll be ready to submit technically correct applications without organizational hysteria as the deadline approaches:

  • Designate a project manager or, as Apple and other tech companies refer to this person, the “Directly Responsible Individual” (DRI).
  • Most funding under the BIL will be for planning and/or development of some sort of physical improvement, structure, or facility. This kind of proposal is very different than a typical human services or R & D proposal: the narrative sections are usually relatively short and often are not composed of a single narrative, but rather are disjointed responses to highly specific questions scattered throughout the RFP; these small narratives may have to be included in different sections of the final application. Severe word or character counts restrictions will likely apply for each narrative section, making it harder to tell a coherent “narrative story” about the project and engage the imagination of the readers who will score the proposal. There should be a section for an abstract or project summary, which may be the grant writer’s only opportunity to draft a topic paragraph that answers the six essential questions that every proposal must include: Who, What Where, When, Why, and How (the 5 Ws and H). If there’s no abstract or project summary, find a place somewhere to include this topic paragraph. The final application, when printed out by the funder*, will look like a layer cake with the narratives interspersed with a myriad of forms, drawings, and exhibits that can easily run to over 200 pages. It is crucial that the RFP application instructions be closely followed, as no matter how great the project concept or the political juice behind it are, the application will not be scored and will be tossed if it’s deemed technically deficient. In most cases, you will not have an opportunity to correct deficiencies.
  • Make sure that your agency can demonstrate site control in the form of a title, right-of-way easement, lease or lease-option. If leased, the term of the lease must be longer than the useful life of the proposed capital improvement(s).
  • Hire an architectural and/or engineering firm to conduct design studies and eventually working drawings needed to obtain a building permit. Due to concerns over climate change and sustainability, select an architect/engineer who will design to meet high-level LEED “green building” standards.
  • Have the architect/engineer develop a master timeline to take the project from concept to moving dirt and establish the critical path for project completion. Once the timeline is set, the DRI should convene the first of a series of “all hands” meetings involving key internal and external stakeholders (e.g., utility company representatives, fire department, etc.). As the project moves forward, keep your eye on the critical path and adjust the timeline frequently. The DRI must keep the project moving forward.
  • Make sure that the architect/engineer interfaces with the jurisdiction’s planning department and/or building department to understand the land use and zoning constraints on the site, as well as the level of environmental review that will be needed. Determine required hearings and discretionary permits/approvals and the anticipated timing of getting the permits/approvals (add these to the project timeline). Depending on the project concept, county, state, and/or federal permits/approvals may be necessary (e.g., EPA, State Office of Historic Preservation “SHPO”, etc.)
  • Have the architect/engineer prepare a conceptual site plan for agency review and, eventually, a second trip the planning/building departments for a reality check. The DRI should schedule any necessary pre-building permit public hearings. The public hearings will need to be formally noticed and widely advertised–these hearings will be where cranky, angry local NIMBYs will show up to complain. No matter how altruistic the project seems, assume that there will be organized opposition and develop a plan to co-opt the opposition or at least address their concerns. We’ve constructed a legal world in which building anything, anywhere, is dragged down by this process, to the detriment of all of us, but Seliger + Associates doesn’t make the rules, we just write the proposals.
  • If feasible, given the project timeline and anticipated RFP release, have the architect/engineer prepare detailed working drawings, based on the conceptual plan (as revised) and apply for a building permit. While not always possible, the best way to demonstrate project feasibility to a funder is having obtained a building permit. This makes it possible to use the ever popular “but for” argument in your proposal: “but for only the grant, the project can be immediately implemented.” This argument is a variation on President Obama’s “shovel ready projects” argument when the 2009 Stimulus Bill was passed.

If all of the above steps are completed, you still won’t have a shovel-ready project; instead, you’ll have an “on the shelf” project and will vastly increase the likelihood of a positive funding decision, as funders for these kind of projects prefer applications that look like they can be quickly started. No funder wants to approve a grant for a project that can’t be built expeditiously—or built at all.

Generally, with an on-the-shelf project, the only step needed after the grant is awarded is to conduct a public-bid process to select the general contractor. A complete application without gotchas and fumbling is the way to soften the stone-like hearts of funder decision makers as they imagine attending the ground breaking ceremony with President Biden and, ideally, Kim Kardashian on hand.

 


* While Seliger + Associates and our readers live in the digital world of 2022, for many federal agencies it’s still 1997. Although most federal proposals are digital uploads, in many cases the proposals are printed out for review and scoring. Thus, all attachments should be 8 1/2″ x 11″ and reviewers will likely view the proposal in grey-scale print outs, not on the 27″ iMacs and 24″ Dell side monitors we use, so beautiful color graphics may be wasted.

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The Dept. of Transportation (DOT) issues first RFP under the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law:” “Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity” (RAISE)

The Department of Transportation (DOT) just issued an RFP for the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Grants program; this being the federal government, the actual name of this program is the “Local and Regional Project Assistance Program in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (“Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’)”, which is even longer than the short title we shoehorned into the title of this post. Why have one program name when two will do?

Although RAISE isn’t a new program, this RFP is significant because it appears to be the first one issued under the recently passed “Infrastructure Bill.” While in FY ’20 there was a paltry $1B available for RAISE, this year there’s $1.5B (and yes, that’s “billion”). The max grants are $5M in urban areas and $1M in rural areas, so hundreds of RAISE grants will be made. The RFP says RAISE grants may be used for “surface transportation infrastructure projects that will have a significant local or regional impact.” The deadline isn’t yet published, curiously, but there’ll be an update notice published on Jan. 30 in grants.gov that should have the deadline.

Eligible applicants include states, local governments, transportation districts and agencies—including ports, and Indian Tribes. While nonprofits aren’t directly eligible, they could be part of an applicant consortium and receive sub-grants for things like environmental justice, equity, workforce development, ethnic-specific community outreach and engagement, etc.

RAISE and other transportation programs, new and old, to be funded by the Infrastructure Bill, are really aimed at what is sometimes called the Concrete Lobby. The Concrete Lobby is an unholy alliance of construction companies, developers, local elected officials and appointed bureaucrats, unions, investment banks, lobbyists, chambers of commerce, and similar self-interested parties. In many ways, the Concrete Lobby is an analog of the Military-Industrial Complex that likes politicians who like foreign wars, so the government will buy more bullets. In this case, the Concrete Lobby wants the government to “buy more concrete.”

When I was a Community Development Director for CA cities in the 1980s, we always paid close attention to local Concrete Lobby members because they could easily and often would hand-pick candidates for local office, disrupting planning and redevelopment efforts (despite their efforts, though, local municipalities still severely restrict housing construction). Environmental groups and other NIMBYs typically opposed the Concrete Lobby, using tools like the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and State Offices of Historic Preservation (SHPO) to tie up or defeat local development projects, including those aimed at transit and transportation.* We see the results today: traffic gridlock and spectacularly high housing prices that hurt the poor the most, but hurt almost everyone. Depending on how the city I was working for felt about a particular project, we’d either support or surreptitiously attempt to sabotage environmental and NIMBY opposition. If you’re an environmental activist, keep in mind that, while you’re playing a one to five year game, the Concrete Lobby and their sycophants in government are playing a 30 to 50 year game.

With so much grant money now sloshing around looking for transportation projects and the rise of “woke environmentalism,” I’m guessing that the Concrete Lobby will try to co-opt opposition by most environmental groups with visions of subcontracts, as well as the virtue signaling sacraments of environmental justice and the suddenly popular shibboleth of “equity.” If you represent an eligible applicant for RAISE grants or a nonprofit interested in subcontracts, this is the time to look for good project concepts. We’ll soon post a companion article on how to develop a competitive grant proposal for RAISE and its ilk. These kinds of proposals are very different than typical human services proposals as the narratives are short, but the attachments are huge, resulting in what we call “layer cake” applications.


* When I was Community Development Director for the City of San Ramon in the San Francisco East Bay around 1990, we worked hard to get the regional transit authority to add bus lines through San Ramon to connect to the BART heavy rail system. We imagined that our largely upper middle class and progressive residents would love the idea of reducing use of cars for commuting. They were environmentalists, right? Wrong! Within two weeks of the new buses, which were standard size or larger articulated buses, rolling though town, about 200 people in matching anti-bus t-shirts showed up at a city council meeting denouncing the intrusive buses that were keeping them awake at night and “ruining their quality of life.” I had the thankless task of facing this mob. The City Council immediately caved and directed me to renegotiate with the transit authority. The result was to remove most trunk bus lines and add a few mini-buses, which defeated the point of connecting to BART for commuting.

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How to fund a Juneteenth Day Black Rodeo (Hint: not via grants, this time)

In addition to our usual calls (e.g.,substance abuse disorder treatment, workforce development, at-risk youth services*, etc.), we sometimes get inquiries from folks seeking more esoteric grants–some favorites include R & D for the eternally elusive perpetual motion machine and expeditions to find the Lost City of Z. Last week, we got a call from a self-described black cowboy (let’s call him “Tex”) in Texas who wants $50K to fund a Juneteenth Day Black Rodeo.**

While we’ve been referencing Juneteenth celebrations in the outreach or needs assessments sections of certain proposals for years, most Americans, including many African Americans, outside of Texas and the Old South had never heard of Juneteenth until it suddenly became a new national holiday last year. Since it’s not cost effective to hire S + A to secure the ~$50K in grants the caller sought, I was ethically bound to decline the assignment. Still, Tex was a reasonable guy with a pretty good idea for a community celebration; he called on a slow day, so I took about half an hour to give Tex free advice on how to fund his vision of a Juneteenth Black Rodeo, which is plausible, just not with grants. Here’s my advice, which can be applied many similar local events or small human services programs:

      • Fiscal Agent: Find a local nonprofit to serve as the fiscal agent to handle and account for donations and make them tax deductible to the donor.
      • Website and Social Media: Create a simple website and set up accounts with the usual social media suspects. Find a local artist to draw a catchy logo. It should be easy to garner attention for this unique project: who doesn’t like a black cowboy (such as Deets in the epic Western novel and mini-series Lonesome Dove), combined with a rodeo?
      • Initial Event Planning: I asked Tex if he had a Stetson, Justin boots, big belt buckle, horse trailer, and pickup truck. He said yes to each in turn. Perfect! Select a Saturday for the initial public event. Send out press releases to local and selected national media (Daily Mail, etc.) and use social media starting a couple of weeks in advance to get the word out. But don’t send anything to the big box store that is your first target. Check with local cops and city to see if any permits are required, but it may be best to skip this in hopes that a media grabbing attempt will made to stop you. That would really get media attention, as they drag you and the horse to the hoosegow!
      • Roll Out Event: Put on the gear, put the horse in the trailer, and park the F-150 two blocks from the biggest Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club in town, but out of sight. Get the horse out and trot around the corner to the front of the store slowly. Then make a big fuss about tying the horse to something. A couple of Black pals in cowboy/rodeo outfits on their own horses would also be desirable, if possible. Try get to a Black “Rodeo Queen” to carry a flag. Get someone to video the whole thing surreptitiously. At this point, you should be surrounded by a herd of parents, kids, media, and more, all going bonkers, and dozens will be using their phones to video and upload the spectacle, increasing the chances of scoring a viral video. Place colorful flyers, a banner with your cool logo, and info sign-up sheet on a folding table staffed with with your pals. Have them circulate in the crowd with actual feedbags to collect donations. Put on your best John Wayne face, stride forcefully into the store to the manager. The manager will be dumbfounded by the unexpected hoopla. Explain politely, but loudly, what you’re doing and ask for an immediate donation of $5,000. You’ll likely get at least a $1,000 on the spot just to get you to go away. Make sure to tell the manager that they’ll get acknowledgment on signage at the Rodeo. Edit and post videos on your social media accounts immediately. With luck, you’ll soon be on the locally produced morning shows, and maybe national shows. Keep your buckle polished just in case.
      • Rinse and Repeat: Do several more of the above events around town until its gets stale. After that, just walk unannounced into car dealers, banks, big retail stores, etc. making a pitch directly face-to-face with the manager. Most of these kinds of entities have budgets for making small donations to local nonprofits and events and will make donations of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars for the asking, as long as you have a fiscal agent for the donation.
      • Ongoing: Set up a GoFundMe Page to publicize the effort after you’ve developed a sufficient level of awareness and use social media to flog that page.

    You can modify the above strategies for any local effort that doesn’t need more than $100K annually. Except for the social media and GoFundMe aspects, this is how I often raised money in the mid 1970s (yes, I’m that old) when I was Executive Director of the Hollywood-Wilshire Fair Housing Council and on the Board of the Harbor Free Clinic in Los Angeles.


    * The recently released FY ’22 Department of Labor FOA replaces the term “at-risk youth” with “opportunity youth.” Now you know.

    ** To fully enjoy this post, listen to “Ghetto Cowboy” by Bone Thugs N Harmony, from 1998.

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Smash-and-grab robbery epidemic, economic development, and grant writing

There seems to be a growing smash-and-grab flash mob phenomenon, which is being widely reported in the media, with the practice starting in California, New York City, and Chicago and now spreading to other places like Minneapolis. These highly organized attacks are presumably being instigated by gangs of some sort; while most media accounts discuss police action or inaction, this post focuses on the likely disastrous outcomes for low-income communities—while offering a glimmer of hope for nimble nonprofits.

Before I set up Seliger + Associates in 1993, I worked for about 15 years in redevelopment, mostly in low-income African American neighborhoods, starting as a community organizing* college intern for the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority in North Minneapolis, and later for four years as Economic Development Manager for the City of Lynwood and eight years as Redevelopment Manager for the City of Inglewood** in South Central Los Angles. I know first hand how hard it is to get developers to build retail facilities in low-income communities, and it’s harder still to get large chain retailers to open stores and operate them over the long term. You can ignore the social justice slogan virtual signaling of large corporate tweets or marketing, and pay attention to what they do in the real world, which is to largely avoid investing in low-income communities. Corporations work to appeal to their customers’ sensibilities, and most customers aren’t closely following the minutia of what a corporation really does, as opposed to what its marketing implies.

While it’s been interesting to read stories and watch videos of dozens of masked looters descending on high end stores like Nordstrom’s and Louis Vuitton, one smash and grab incident hit home to me: the CVS drug store in the Vermont-Slauson Shopping Center in South Central Los Angeles. I think this was the first shopping center built anywhere in South Central after the Watts Rebellion in 1965, and it was a remarkable achievement, because the few retailers that existed in South Central in 1965 fled as part of the overall “white flight” phenomenon after the rebellion. The Vermont-Slauson Economic Development Corporation, the nonprofit that developed the Center, was one of Seliger + Associates’ first clients, and I spent many afternoons in the office of then-Executive Director, Marva Smith Battle-Bey, a wonderful and dedicated woman who passed in 2016.

When I worked in Lynwood and Inglewood from 1978 to 1990, there was not a single chain drugstore in either city, and I wasn’t able to recruit any—despite years of trying and dangling huge redevelopment incentives. With the exception of making a deal in Inglewood for the first Price Club in the LA area (Price Club later merged with Costco), it proved impossible to attract national retail brands. In Lynwood, I reached out to the national real estate manager for K-Mart, then the dominant US big box retailer, to see if K-Mart would take over a vacant department store in the city. This guy listened to my pitch and said: “We know Lynwood. You could build the store, give it to K-Mart free, and we wouldn’t operate it.” When I was in Inglewood, the now now-defunct company Circuit City popped up as one of the first national “category killer” retailers. I found their national real estate manager and again made my pitch. He said: “We’ve already looked at Inglewood. You don’t have the demographics for a Circuit City”—meaning, too many poor black residents. That’s how hard economic development and redevelopment can be. Arguably, online delivery has alleviated some of these challenges, much like Uber and Lyft alleviated the some of the risks of trying to hail a taxi while black, but they’re still present and with us.

If this smash and grab epidemic continues, CVS and other national retailers will close their stores (Walgreens has already closed 18 stores in San Francisco, which, for the most part, isn’t low income, but it also doesn’t enforce or prosecute shoplifting) in low-income communities and flee to the suburbs, exurbs, and cities perceived as having strong law enforcement. This will especially hurt low-income folks in places like California, New York City, and Chicago that have effectively legalized shoplifting, or, in its organized form, flash mob looting. The stage is being set for the emergence of “pharmacy and retail deserts” to join the food deserts that we often include in our grant proposal needs assessments. Grant writers, take heed.

Still, the rapid assault on retailers may have some positive impacts for nimble nonprofits and grant writers: as drug stores and other retailers flee, the shopping centers and stand-alone stores will remain. These will present opportunities for nonprofits to seek grants for adaptive reuse as affordable housing, lower end retail (flash mobs are less likely to do a smash and grab at a Dollar Store or Old Navy), or community centers/human services providers like FQHC satellite sites (we wrote a funded grant years ago to convert an abandoned shopping center into a youth center in Milwaukee).

Also, anyone seeing the videos knows the looters are what we call in the grant writing biz, “at-risk vulnerable youth and young adults.” This presents a great needs assessment argument for any youth services project concept, including workforce development. For example, the DOL just issued the FY ’22 RFP for YouthBuild and we’ll include the smash and grab trope in the needs assessment for any urban YouthBuild proposals we write this year.

This situation also illustrates the importance of nonprofits and grant writers paying attention to emerging bad news in American society. Before opioid funding for medication-assisted treatment (MAT) became common from HRSA and SAMHSA, for example, news articles began describing what was happening on the streets. Most disasters, natural or manmade, mean new grant opportunities on the horizon. The feds, states, and large cities/counties will soon respond to the smash and grab crisis by issuing RFPs for both economic development (likely through the recently passed Infrastructure Bill) and youth supportive services. The lyrics of one of the great songs in West Side Story will give you the outline for your needs assessment for a youth services proposal to counter flash mobs: “Gee, Officer Krupke, we’re very upset; We never had the love that ev’ry child oughta get. We ain’t no delinquents,We’re misunderstood. Deep down inside us there is good!”


* Like President Obama, I was trained as a Saul Alinsky community organizer and worked as a community organizer for a year.

** This was not the gentrifying “new Inglewood” of a billion-dollar stadium for the Raiders and Chargers; this was the old Inglewood of Tupac’s “California Love:” “Inglewood, always up to no good.”

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Congress finally passes the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Is this 2021, or 2009, or is it deja vu all over again?

After six months of either negotiations or bizarre political theater, depending on your point of view, Congress finally passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, aka “the Infrastructure Bill;” it could have been named, “The Grant Seekers and Grant Writers Full Employment Act of 2021.” While analyses very, it seems that less than $200 million of the $1.2 trillion in the Bill will fund rail, bridges, roads, harbors, and other items that most people recognize as “infrastructure,” and the rest is a hodgepodge of other stuff too numerous to list here.

I’ve seen this movie: in 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). That opus was also a boon for grant seekers and grant writers and—as Yogi Bera is said to have said, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

Like with the ARRA, the Infrastructure Bill is a good example of the legislative log-rolling and sausage-making needed to get major legislation passed. After the dust clears, I’ll write another post about grant programs that are actually in the bill, but it obviously has huge funding authorizations for a cornucopia of project types in most federal departments.

As a former redevelopment director for CA cities and a long-time grant writing consultant, I found President Obama and Vice President Biden’s insistence in 2009 that the ARRA would fund “shovel ready projects” to be hilarious: given the labyrinth of environment reviews, local zoning issues, and ever-present NIMBYs ready to sue, “shovel ready” has little real-world meaning. Even Obama eventually admitted as much in 2012 when the feds couldn’t get the money spent quickly enough. Reforming the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) to increase project velocity would be a good place to start; without regulatory reform, infrastructure construction is likely to remain overly slow, bureaucratic, and expensive—all of these are components of “the great stagnation“. Given the 2009 experience, I was equally amused to watch now President Biden in a presser this week claiming that the Infrastructure Bill would have quick, positive impacts on American’s daily lives. Maybe in a couple of years it will have positive, noticeable impacts on daily lives, but it’ll have no impact on the current twin scourges of rapid inflation and supply chain woes.

Still, the Infrastructure Bill, like the ARRA, will eventually unleash a tsunami of RFPs when the federal departments complete rule-making. There’s no ready reserve of program officers waiting to be thrown into the fray, so the process of moving from legislation to RFPs will occur at the typical federal glacial pace, no matter what Transportation Department Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other administration officials say on the Sunday morning news shows. Remember that, as Patrick Collison and others pointed out in their discussion of their Fast Grants foundation program, during the pandemic, an NIH grant “application will typically result in a decision after something between 200 and 600 days.” And that’s during the pandemic, when every day really counts. If a pandemic that killed hundreds of thousands and hospitalized millions more can’t inspire the lethargic federal bureaucracy towards greater speed, what can?

I just watched a press conference with Commerce Department Secretary Gina Raimondo, who was asked when broadband funding under the Infrastructure Bill would actually be available. After hemming and hawing for a few minutes, she finally admitted she didn’t know but that it would be “well into 2022.” She has no idea when the money will actually flow and probably feels she has limited ability to make it flow. We wrote our first of many ARRA funded proposals in 2009—and our last in in 2017! I’m guessing we’ll be writing Infrastructure Bill proposals for the rest of the decade. SpaceX’s Starlink satellite Internet effort began initial planning in 2014, moved towards development in 2017, and began deploying satellites in 2019—in other words, it deployed novel technologies and platforms in less time than terrestrial broadband funding is likely to reach consumers.

Still, there’ll be a frenzy of applicants waiting at the federal trough: during the ARRA era, we wrote tons of proposals for various alternative energy and EV battery projects, mostly working for start-ups that emerged like March tulips from the snow as soon as the bill passed. We’re already getting calls from similar outfits, but I have to tell them: relax, you can’t get your snout in the grant trough till the RFPs appear, which they will in the coming months and years. The ARRA included some fairly odd funding, including huge funding for Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs)—and FQHCs become our largest client category as a result. For some reason, the ARRA also had lots of funding for the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW), so, for a couple of years we wrote many proposals for domestic violence programs. I’m sure there are similar grant nuggets in the Infrastructure Bill, since lobbyists have had plenty of time to work their magic.

If you’re the CEO of a nonprofit or an energy business or a city manager/public works director, you should not stand around the grant trough with your tongue out. Instead, here’s what we’re telling our clients and callers about the Infrastructure Bill:

    • Finalize your project concept, including doing as much preliminary work as you. If it’s a capital project, get site control, finish your working drawings, and obtain a building permit. If it’s a non-capital project like environmental justice or something to do with climate change, decide on the target area, strategies, and line up partners.
    • Look for detailed analyses of the Bill to figure out which federal agencies and state agencies (for pass-through formula allocation grants) will have funding that matches your project concepts, get on email lists to make sure you don’t miss an RFP, and check grants.gov and trade association websites routinely.
    • If you don’t have a specific project in mind, dream up a couple that match available funding. Someone is going to get the grants—and it might as well be your agency.

The Infrastructure Bill is more like the ARRA than the three huge COVID relief bills that Congress passed starting in March 2020. Because the country was facing a real existential threat and there wasn’t time for lobbyists and sausage making, most of the funding in those bills was directly appropriated to specific entities and industries like cities, school districts, FQHCs, airlines, etc., or as individual income supports, like extended unemployment and SNAP (food stamps). Those bills produced relatively few RFPs for discretionary grants and many organizations only had to stand around and wait for the money to fall on their heads. The Infrastructure Bill will likely not be like that, except that much of the funding will be pass-through grants to states, which will then issue their own RFPs, complicating and lengthening the application process. This time around, your organization will have to work to get the grants.

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Inflation poses potentially major challenges for nonprofits and their budgets

The United States is currently experiencing the highest measured inflation rate since the early ’80s, although it may have moderated a bit recently. We see this in our business—all of our many software-as-a-service (“SaaS” in tech nomenclature) subscriptions have gone up by at least 10% in the past six months, our costs for consumable supplies and equipment have also risen, and anyone who’s been to the used car lot, supermarket, etc., sees it in their daily lives. Still, while there are many articles on inflation in the media, I’ve yet to read one that discusses the significant and deleterious impact of inflation on nonprofits. I was the Executive Director of the Hollywood-Wilshire Fair Housing Council in the late ’70s, and then a full-time grant writer, so I experienced first-hand hyper inflation. Back then, we learned quickly that budgets had to account for inflation, and inflation expectations affected everything we did.

As we’ve written many times, most nonprofits depend on only four revenue streams, no matter how big or small the nonprofit: grants, fee-for-service contracts / third-party reimbursements, fund raising / donations, and, for a few, membership dues. A tiny number of nonprofits have endowments, but, if you’re Princeton or the Met, you don’t really have the problems and challenges normal nonprofits do. Inflation will negatively all of these streams:

  • Grants: Inflation will have the biggest impact on grants. When a nonprofit gets a grant award, the award is based on the proposed budget, and the proposed budget may be modified somewhat during the contract negotiation process. Still, the grant will be a fixed amount, either annually or for the budget period, and grant contracts rarely, if ever, include a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) provision. If the grant is, for example, $500,000 annually for five years, and inflation runs at 5% per year, the last year of the grant is going to be much harder to implement than the first.* While it’s usually possible to get approval to move money among budget line items, you can’t go to your program officer and say, “Hey, we now have to pay our Outreach Workers $20/hour because they can make $18/hour at McDonalds” or “our rent went up by $500/month” to get relief. You’re stuck (or a similar, six-letter word that starts with “f” and ends with “ed”). Because inflation has been low, most nonprofit Executive Directors and Boards have never experienced rapid inflation. Not much can be done with existing grants, but in writing future grants, it’ll be critical to propose budgets and services taking into account anticipated inflation. Since an estimated 10% of the American economy is conducted by nonprofits, multiply the impact of inflationary thinking by thousands of nonprofits. The Federal Reserve had to raise interest rates to 20% in the early ’80s to break the inflationary cycle, and that could happen again.
  • Fee-for-Service Contracts and Third-Party Reimbursements: Unlike grants, fee-for-service contracts for things like foster care, home healthcare, some substance abuse treatment, etc., typically reimburse nonprofits at a specific rate for services rendered, which are often capitated (“per head”) or a fixed price for a unit of service rendered. Like grants, such contracts will not usually have built-in COLA provisions. If the contract is based a capitated rate or unit of service provided, inflation will quickly screw this up. A nonprofit may be able to renegotiate contract rates, since in cases where specialized services are provided (e.g., foster care), the contracting agency may need the nonprofit more than the nonprofit needs the contract. Third-party reimbursements, like Medicaid for FQHCs, are even more problematic, as these cannot not be renegotiated and there will be a lag before rates catch up with inflation, if they ever do.
  • Fund Raising / Donations: Let’s say tickets for your nonprofit’s annual “Gala” have been $100 for the last five years. Due to inflation (e.g. venue rent, food, celebrity honorariums/goody bags, etc., cost increases), you may need to charge $150 to net enough money to make the exercise worthwhile. Some number of your supporters will be priced out, if their own wages or investment income aren’t keeping up. Back in my Fair Housing days, most of our fund raising involved overpriced tickets to plays and concerts, Christmas card sales, etc., and, as inflation went up, we netted less and less money. The same is true for donations; as folks’ real incomes are depressed due to inflation, they’re likely to donate less and the amount they donate will be worth less to the nonprofit. Essentially, this becomes a downward spiral, which caused me to start writing more grants to keep the Fair Housing staff on board and the lights on.
  • Membership Dues: A few nonprofits like environmental organizations or Boys and Girls Clubs, are able to charge membership dues. Like with fund raising and donations, however, inflation will make these agencies need to raise their dues to preserve their “buying power,” but dues increases will likely run into resistance from their members. Many members also likely cancelled during the pandemic; Jake had a YMCA gym membership that he cancelled in April 2020 and never restarted. Inflation erodes real incomes as people’s salaries buy less stuff and wage increases typically lag inflation increases. So, membership dues are easier to cut from a family’s budget that say new school clothes for the kids.

Nimble nonprofits will plan for inflation now, just as smart countries planned for pandemics before the pandemic hit. A good strategy is to seek grants that offer “walking around money.” These are grants for nebulous, rather than specific, services and in effect can be used to support other staff and indirect costs. It’s also important to get a Federally Approved Indirect Cost Rate or include a de minimus indirect rate (10%) in your grant budget, if the RFP allows this. Nonprofits will want and need grant revenue that isn’t tied to providing specific services.

Nonprofits that don’t realize the world is quickly changing due to inflation will be in for a rude awakening. As Bette Davis says in the wonderful 1950 comedy All About Eve, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”


* While one can include COLA increases in grant budgets (e.g., 3% annual salary increases), this doesn’t help, because the maximum grant amount is usually fixed. Furthermore, complex budgets violate Seliger + Associates’ basic advice to use the KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid—or “Sally” if you want to be nice) method in grant writing when possible.

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The 3-point revolution in basketball: a lesson for grant seekers and grant writers

I’m old enough to remember the time (not that long ago) when the most important player on most basketball teams was the low-post man, often a back-to-basket center, like George Mikan (the original), Kareem, Wilt, Shaq, etc. That was upended a few years ago with the 3-point shot revolution pioneered by the Golden State Warriors (think Seth Curry, Klay Thompson, etc.). The 3-point shot was added in 1979, but it took basketball experts almost 40 years to figure out that it’s more efficient for players to take more 3-point shots than 2-point shots, even if the shooting percentage for 3-pointers is lower. Maybe humans are less rational than the classical model suggests, if it took so long for teams to optimize for a change, even in a relatively small, controlled environment like pro basketball.

Greater efficiency is achieved by 3-point shooting even if fewer balls technically go through the hoop: we can apply a similar idea or set of ideas to grant writing. It’s more efficient for a nonprofit to submit more proposals rather than spending too much time and resources polishing a smaller number of proposals. We’ve been through many client-induced “polishing” and extensive “editing” exercises with proposals, and they typically generate diminishing returns. Imagine the Lakers rebounding at the Jazz basket and having to take a shot at their end within the 24 second shot clock: the point guard could spend 22 seconds working the ball into a low-post player, who (hopefully) takes a high percentage shot, or the point guard could quickly dribble to the 3-point line, hand off to the shooting guard who takes a 3-point shot at the 6 second mark. While the completion percentage is much lower, this results in many more possessions and opportunities to shoot and score.

In grant seeking, a nonprofit could have its grant writer work tirelessly to polish one grant proposal or have the grant writer do a credible, but maybe not perfect, job on three proposals during the same “grant writing shot clock.” The second approach is likely to produce more funded grants than the first approach, largely because you’re taking more shots on goal. As hockey GOAT Wayne Gretzky famously put it, “I missed 100% of the shots I didn’t take.” Moreover, there’s a lot of noise in the grant evaluation process, just as there is in dating, jobs, and many other human endeavors. The people who succeed most in dating or jobs typically try a lot of different things, knowing that many possible romantic prospects will not like them, for whatever internal reason, and the same is true of employers.

In grant writing terms, and as we periodically blog about, “many shots” means avoiding the perils of perfectionism. It doesn’t matter how perfect the proposal is if you miss the deadline. Also, it’s best to understand that grant reviewers will not study your proposal like the Talmud. At most, the reviewers, who are likely reading dozens of proposals, might spend a half hour reviewing your 40-page opus. As long as the proposal is technically correct and tells a compelling story, it’s probably good enough, since funding decisions go well beyond the proposal itself, including such unknowable considerations as location (urban vs. rural), target population, ethnicity, number of similar applicants, and, the old standby, politics.* There’s likely a pin map in the Under Assistant Secretary’s office to figure out which high scoring proposals will actually be funded (too many in red state Texas, then let’s move a couple to purple state Arizona in anticipation of the 2022 midterms).

Like NBA players who practice long hours to improve their 3-point shooting, your grant writer should be able to get better and faster at writing proposals. Writing proposals, though, is a job that’s hard and drives many grant writers or prospective grant writers mad, or encourages them to leave the business—which is why we have the business we do.


  • At least with federal programs, and large state programs, this is almost never any RFPs of the “let me give you $10,000 in unmarked bills, or bitcoin” variety, but rather of the “Texas is getting five grants, and California zero? That needs to be better balanced” variety.
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New $1.9T COVID bill, American Rescue Plan Act, signed: grant seekers and grant writers pay heed!

In January, I wrote “New Combo COVID-19 stimulus bill and budget bill will have tons of grant ‘ornaments’.” Two months later, and Congress passed and President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).* You know you have a significant spending bill when NPR calls the bill “colossal.” I’ve been writing grant proposals since dinosaurs walked the earth (in fact, about the same year Biden entered the Senate!) and to paraphrase Jeff Lynnes ELO masterpiece Do Ya, “I never seen nothing like this”.

Despite the bill’s name, much of the spending dumps huge amounts of money into existing and new programs, rather than direct COVID relief. As grant writers, we’re not professionally interested in odd items like direct subsidies to farmers of color or the potential upending of Clintons’ 1996 welfare reform by providing “child tax credits” that are actually in effect direct welfare payments. We’re professionally interested in funding for dozens, maybe hundreds, of discretionary/competitive grant programs authorized by ARPA.

ARPA is something like 5,000 pages, so we’re depending on others to figure out what’s in it regarding discretionary/competitive grant program funding. Here’s some of the nuggets we’re found so far:

  • $80,000,000 for mental and behavioral health training for health care professions, paraprofessionals, and public safety officers.
  • $40,000,000 for health care providers to promote mental and behavioral health among their health professional workforce.
  • $30,000,000 for local substance use disorder services like syringe services programs and other harm reduction interventions.
  • $50,000,000 for local behavioral health needs.
  • $30,000,000 for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), to address mental health issues among school-aged youth.
  • $20,000,000 for youth suicide prevention.
  • $420,000,000 for expansion grants for certified community behavioral health clinics.
  • $128B for state education agencies, 90% to be passed through to local education agencies (school districts), some likely via RFPs.
  • $15B for the Child Care & Development Block Grant program, with much of this to be passed through via RFPs.
  • $1.4B for existing Older Americans Act (OAA) programs.
  • $25B for a new grant program for “restaurants and other food and drinking establishments.” We’ll drink to that! We’ve never written proposals for for-profit restaurants, but we could (we have written proposals for re-entry programs and the like that use their own restaurants for food-service job training).
  • $1.5B for something called the SBA Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.
  • $7.5B for the CDC to track, distribute, and administer COVID-19 vaccines, some of which is likely be available via RFPs, particularly to Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and local public health agencies.
  • $7.6B in “flexible emergency COVID-19 funding” for FQHCs, although it’s not clear if this will be by formula or RFP.

We may update this list as more info emerges, and you should watch for press releases from state funding agencies and trade groups in your areas of service delivery for other summaries. If you see good summaries, send them to us.

In 2009, the last time we saw this kind of federal spending, I wrote “Stimulus Bill Passes: Time for Fast and Furious Grant Writing.” That bill was $900M and we wrote our last proposal for funding authorized by it in 2016—eight years after it passed! It’s going to take many years for all of the ARPA funding to wash through the system, so it’ll be raining ARPA RFPs for at least the rest the decade.

Most of what I wrote in 2009 is still true in that the funding agencies usually don’t get more staff, even though they’re suddenly responsible for vastly increased RFP processes, including reviewing the thousands of proposals that will be submitted and administering the thousands of new grants to be made. Federal Program Officers and Budget Officers are going to be overloaded, which likely means less thorough review of proposals and subsequent grant contracts and limited oversight. If you run a nonprofit or public agency, there’ll never be a better time to aggressively seek grants.


  • As grant writers, we’re always amused by new government acronyms. In this case, some 25-year-old recent Ivy League grad, who works for a congressional committee, likely came up with ARPA, though there’s already a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), which is it itself a major federal grant-making entity. It would be fun if ARPA has new funds for DARPA, like a Matryoshka or Russian Nesting Doll.
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New combo COVID-19 stimulus bill and budget bill have tons of grant “ornaments”

The latest COVID-19 Stimulus Bill was signed into law Dec. 27, which, combined with the FY ’21 budget authorization bill, represents a burst of new grant activity. Congress loves to cobble together fantastically complex budget legislation, as this practice, called adding special interest “ornaments,” gives members lots of room for plausible deniability about voting for them; some of the new discretionary provisions include:

    • $82B for “education,” including $54B for K-12 schools and $23B for colleges/universities. Some of these funds will be distributed on a formula basis, likely via pass-throughs to state education agencies, but the rest should be awarded through competitive RFPs, either direct federal applications or RFPs run by the states.
    • $7B for expanding access to “high-speed internet connections,” including subsidies for low-income families. This provision also include $300M for building out broadband infrastructure in rural areas and $1B for tribal broadband programs. We wrote many broadband infrastructure grants following the 2009 Stimulus Bill during the Great Recession.
    • $70B for a slew of “public health measures,” including $20B for “test and trace” programs and “billions for combating the disparities facing communities of color.” This is another way of saying “walking around money” for nonprofits and local public agencies.
    • $10B for child care providers. We write many early childhood education proposals, including Head Start, Early Head Start, Universal Pre-K, etc., and this set of funding provisions will likely be similar. Furthermore, it’s probable that both non-profit and for-profit entities will be eligible, since much of the non-Head Start child care industry is operated by for-profits.
    • $35B for “wind, solar, and other clean energy projects.” These funds will likely be distributed through the Department of Energy, ARPA-E and similar funding agencies.
    • $400M for food banks and $175M for nutrition programs under the Older Americans Act, which will probably be distributed via programs like Meals on Wheels.
    • $5B for the “entertainment industry,” including cultural institutions like theater groups, museums, etc.
    • $14B for public transit.

Some of the other features, listed here more for amusement than anything else, include: a statement of policy regarding the succession or reincarnation of the Dalai Lama; the establishment of two new Smithsonian museums; giving West Virginia a national park; banning the USPS from mailing electronic vaping products; the decriminalization of various minor violations, including the transportation of water hyacinths, alligator grass, or water chestnut plants across state lines and the unauthorized use of the Swiss coat of arms, the 4-H Club emblem, the “Smokey Bear” character or name, the “Woodsy Owl” character, name or slogan, or “The Golden Eagle Insignia; the establishment of an anti-doping program for horse racing; a bunch of foreign aid programs for things like gender studies in Pakistan; and, my personal favorite, a 180-day countdown underway for the Pentagon and spy agencies to reveal what they all know about UFOs.

In other words, the Mulder and Scully Act of 2020” is hidden in this bill. During a conversation with Tyler Cowen, former CIA director John Brennan recently commented on UFOs, saying that he’s “seen some of those videos from Navy pilots, and I must tell you that they are quite eyebrow-raising” and that, after sifting the evidence, “I think some of the phenomena we’re going to be seeing continues to be unexplained and might, in fact, be some type of phenomenon that is the result of something that we don’t yet understand and that could involve some type of activity that some might say constitutes a different form of life.”

We’ll write another follow-up post or two on this topic, as the 6,000 page bill is fully digested.