USDA Rural Development grant programs: grant writer tips for applicants

BREAKING NEWS: The just announced that USDA is making available up to https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2022/02/24/usda-commits-215-million-enhance-american-food-supply-chain $215 million in grants and other support to expand meat and poultry processing options, strengthen the food supply chain, and create jobs and economic opportunities in rural areas, including work force development.

If the average person thinks of the USDA—which is likely not often—they probably think of food inspection, advice for farmers, the Midwest, cows, corn, etc. But that’s a blinkered view, because there are many USDA grant programs that provide funding for a wide array of infrastructure projects in rural areas—like community facilities, utilities, telecommunications, safe water, etc., as well as affordable housing. Most of these programs are operated by the USDA Rural Development office. Although not often recognized in the media, many USDA grant programs cover non-agricultural topics, despite the department being called the “United States Department of Agriculture.” Many organizations experience mission creep, and the USDA isn’t an exception.

For example, Rural Development Rural Utility Service (RUS) recently conducted an RFP process for the “Rural eConnectivity Program,” which had $1.15 billion (yes, billion!) in funding “to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas.” Systems of any kind were eligible as long as they are “capable of delivering 100 Mbps symmetrical service to every premise in the proposed funded service area (PFSA).” That implies both wired and wireless systems were eligible, and the program doesn’t define minimum latency. Does broadband have much to do with agriculture? Maybe not, but it does impact the lives of rural residents and the amount of available funding is large.

While RUS does nominally focus on providing grants that affect agricultural concerns, its focus has also shifted to more general rural issues. As rural areas have lost population, many have turned to government grant programs for help to sustain themselves. If local tax bases can’t pay for schools, roads, healthcare, and other forms of infrastructure, those communities must look for other sources of revenue as their populations age in place and need evermore services. Since every state two senators, regardless of population, as well as at least one representative, this gives rural states political leverage (if Senator Foghorn Leghorn want more money for mass transit in NYC, she might have to make a deal with rural senators for more money for rural roads). This political reality often translates into major funding for rural areas, relative to what those areas produce in tax revenue. Of course, rural areas are also responsible for most farming output, as well as mining output, and those uses generate important spillover effects, and those spillover effects also explain why grant funding is used as a mechanism to subsidize them. Everyone’s has to eat and it’s it’s not likely that NYC is going allow wheat farming in Central Park.

The USDA, and more particularly Rural Development, programs received billions in additional budget authority under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which passed in 2022, and new RFPs for a variety of rural infrastructure projects will soon be published. Public agencies and nonprofits serving rural areas should closely watch grants.gov and the Federal Register (the USDA still uses the Federal Register for some RFP announcements) for grant opportunities. Many of those grant opportunities have short deadlines, so it’s important to be vigilant watching for RFPs.

We’ve written numerous funded USDA grant applications, including many during the 2009 Stimulus Bill, like the “the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).” We can make your USDA grant application process easy by writing your entire proposal or editing your draft for a reasonable flat fee. Call us at 800.540.8906 ext. 1 or email us at seliger@seliger.com for a fast, free fee quote on any grant writing assignment.