7 common fire grant rejection letter questions answered

Jerry Brant

If you recently received a turndown letter for your 2013 AFG grant application, you are not alone. FEMA generated several thousand letters as the first round of rejections were relayed to applicants.

Just like clockwork, applicants, after receiving their letter, began the process of trying to determine why their application didn't get funded. If you were one of these applicants, here are some suggestions to help you understand the letter and why you received it.

Let's begin by looking at the three types of turndown letters and the reasons for them. The first type is received because the application did not score high enough in the preliminary review. The preliminary review is an electronic review of your application by a computer.

During this phase of the review process, the computer screens an application to see how closely the answers align with the priorities established by FEMA for this year's AFG program. If your application scores high enough, it is sent to a three-person peer review committee, which reads and scores your narratives.

Peer reviewed
The second group of turndown letters are those that make it to peer review but do not score high enough to be considered for funding.

The third type of letters go to applicants who scored high enough in peer review for consideration, but the AFG program simply exhausted all of its funding before getting to those applications.

Every year, when the first group of turndown letters arrives, I hear the same complaints from applicants. They sound something like this:

  • My turndown letter sounds exactly like my neighbors and exactly like someone I communicate with online who is three states away.
  • My letter really doesn't address our application.
  • What was my score and is there a way to request my score?
  • Why are there references to the AFG Guidance and FOA in my letter?
  • Does my regional FEMA person have a copy of this?
  • Is there any way to appeal this decision?
  • Does FEMA offer tutoring to applicants who haven't had an AFG funded?

Form letter
First, yes your letter is probably exactly like everyone else's. Given the number of letters that must be generated some elements of your letter, such as the initial introduction are boilerplate. These paragraphs are simply an explanation of the AFG program and review process.

Because FEMA receives so many applications, they simply are not able to develop individual rejection letters. Instead the letters are developed around groups of applicants who applied for similar projects.

The next several paragraphs of your letter are generated using the sections of the AFG FOA on which your application scored the lowest. Because these letters are based on groups of applicants, all of the information in this section may not pertain specifically to your application.

It will, however, provide general areas where your application fell short. For example, if your application request was for diesel exhaust removal equipment, and your letter is referencing the sections of the FOA that state the highest priority is to stations that have sleeping quarters, and are occupied 24/7, your station is probably not staffed seven days a week.

Your turndown letter may also cite the fact that AFG does not fund modifications to stations built after 2003. Your station was built in 1955. These citations are provided to give as close of a reference within the FOA as possible, but may include several related references based on the grouping of questions in the application.

Knowing the score
No, FEMA does not issue applicants their score and there is no process to request them. At this point in the process rejected applicants would only have a partial score anyway since their application did not go to peer review.

Even after peer review, your score wouldn't mean anything unless you also knew the scale for the application period. Knowing your score would be like saying the Yankees scored five in last night's game. This really isn't enough information to let you know if they won or not.

There is no way to appeal FEMA's decision. In accordance with appeal procedure outlined in the Code of Federal Regulation, FEMA will only reconsider an application "with respect to an initial grant award decision only when the applicant asserts that FEMA made a material technical or procedural error in the processing of the application and can substantiate such assertions."

The citation further goes on to state that "as grants are awarded on a competitive basis…. FEMA cannot consider a request for reconsideration based upon the merits of an original application. Similarly, FEMA will not consider new information provided after the submission of the original application."

Finally, your regional fire program specialist at FEMA does have access to your turndown letter. If you have additional questions you can always contact this person for assistance.

For applicants who have submitted a substantial number of applications without an award, FEMA does have mentoring services available. In the past, FEMA has considered applicants who failed to receive funding on five or six applications in a row to be eligible for a mentor.

This does not occur automatically. If you are interested, you must make an application through your regional FEMA office for the mentor.

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