Dealing with excess grant funds

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By Jerry Brant

You have probably heard the saying, “Sometimes it is easy to ask for forgiveness than to get permission.” That may be true in some cases, but you should never practice this policy when it comes to managing your agency’s grant funds.

In recent weeks, I have received a number of phone calls and emails dealing with the subject of excess grant funds, mainly those remaining from AFG grants. After listening to the caller’s story, I usually ask two standard questions.

First, have you fulfilled all of the terms of your grant application? If you applied for and received funding to purchase 20 complete sets of turnout gear and five SCBA, have you in fact purchased all of these items?

If the answer is yes, the second question I normally ask is, have you spoken to your fire grant specialist about this situation? Your fire grant specialist is the person designated by DHS/FEMA to manage your grant.

Oddly enough the response I get from a majority of my callers is, “No, I haven’t, and I thought that is what you would say.”

In my nearly 30 years of grant writing, I have never understood the reluctance of grantees to ask questions of their grant managers. Your grant manager is not your enemy. In most cases, this person is your advocate with the funding agency.

Especially in the case of private foundations, your grant manager may be an excellent source for additional funds for your agency. Remember, grant makers are looking for successful outcomes made possible by their financial assistance. In these situations grant managers familiar with a successful project may suggest other possible funding sources to the grantee.

Another reason I highly suggest that you speak with your grant manager before undertaking any unauthorized expenditure is the possibility of civil or criminal penalties.

At times, I think we forget that AFG, SAFER and FP&S are all programs that are funded with federal dollars. The grant agreement that we sign lays out the terms to receive the program’s funding. Failure to adhere to these terms could result in your department having to pay back any misspent funding. Depending on the situation, it could also result in criminal charges being filed against you.

My message to you is very simple: Please get approval before you decide to deviate from the terms of your grant. In the case of AFG, the program’s website now has an excess grant funds worksheet that can assist you.

If this does not provide you with sufficient information, contact your grant manager or your regional FEMA office. Contact information for regional offices is available on the AFG website.

One final suggestion: Funding agencies are always looking for success stories. They use this information to help justify their grant budgets.

Information like this is also useful to other departments that may be contemplating a similar program. Take a few minutes to submit your success story. It may help to keep that funding program operating, and it may help your fellow firefighters looking to emulate your project.

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