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The Office of Community Services Rides the Stimulus Wave with Funding for Community Economic Development Projects, But Is It 1965 or 1975 Again?*

March 8th, 2009 · by Isaac Seliger · No Comments

The Office of Community Services (OCS) just issued its FY ’09 RFP for Community Economic Development Projects (CED), which has about $87M available for Community Development Corporations (CDCs)** over three years, with 47 awards grants of up to $800,000/year for three years to be made. While not strictly part of the Stimulus Bill (now formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009), a close reading of the RFP shows that OCS wants to do its part in stimulating the economy. In Getting Your Piece of the Infrastructure Pie: A How-To Guide for the Perplexed, I observed that there are only four major ways of distributing stimulus dollars, one being:

1. Congress can fund programs, new or old, to be administered at the federal level through some sort of competitive RFP processes. In this case, any eligible entity can pitch any eligible project by submitting a proposal, which is more or less the way most discretionary grant dollars are distributed.

Now we have a live example of this occurring in the sense that OCS is targeting CED funding for projects that complement President Obama’s recession-fighting efforts.

CDCs are eligible for the program, and OCS defines them as “A private, non-profit corporation governed by a board of directors consisting of residents of the community and business and civic leaders, which has a principal purpose of planning, developing, or managing low-income housing or community development activities.” This means lots of nonprofits are eligible applicants if they are involved in community development, economic development, job training and the like, provided that such purposes are included in their by-laws. Even certain faith-based organizations (FBOs) can also be a CDC.

The CED program is the discretionary part of OCS’s larger Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), which funds through formula grants to states, big cities and urban counties. An interesting aspect of OCS is that it succeeds the almost forgotten, but not by me, Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) that was created in 1964 to fund local “War on Poverty” programs. The shock troops used then by OEO and now by OCS to battle poverty are local Community Action Programs (CAPs), which are sometimes referred to as Community Action Agencies (CAAs) or colloquially as “CAP Agencies.” I was at one time a Poverty Warrior, since my first job upon arriving in LA in 1974 was with the Long Beach Commission on Economic Opportunities, a CAP Agency that was long ago absorbed by the City of Long Beach. One of my surprises in starting this business in 1993 was discovering that about 850 CAP agencies still quietly operated across America. We’ve worked for lots of them over the years. OCS has historically favored funding CAP agencies. While all CAP agencies are CDCs according to the OCS definition, many other nonprofits can also be considered CDCs.

(After reading the above paragraph, you’ll probably understand why we’ve created a page devoted to grant writing acronyms, since keeping CDCs, CAAs, CED, and CAPs might become difficult.)

CED is a great way for the right kind of nonprofit to access direct federal discretionary funds without having to muck around with local funding processes and the inevitable local politics they involve. If your agency can somehow be construed to be a CDC, this is a fantastic opportunity because almost any job-generating project concept can be funded. It’s sort of the ultimate “walking around” money for certain nonprofits. As such, it’s time for the fast and furious grant writing we predicted last month.


* Another Reader Contest Opportunity : Since the economy began to tank a few months ago, I’ve been trying to decide if it’s 1965 or 1975 again. Writing about OCS and CAP agencies makes me think it’s 1965, with lots of money streaming out of DC and a couple of wars going on. But maybe 1975 is better because that was also a time of money flowing from DC to counter the mid-1970s recession and general malaise—this was the heyday of the EDA Local Public Works Program that funded tons of city halls and similar projects—amid lots of doom and gloom (see “The Return of the Paranoid Style” in The Atlantic for why movies might get better during bad times). Since it may be 1975, I just watched one of my favorite movies of 1975: the hilarious modern Western Rancho Deluxe. See Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, Harry Dean Stanton and Slim Pickens as they rustle up a cure for the economic blues gripping Wyoming. We invite readers to submit brief comments on why they think 2009 is more like 1965 or 1975. The winner will receive a Humphrey for President Button or a Whip Inflation Now Button, depending on the year selected (alas, I don’t actually have the buttons. But you should play anyway).

** Of course, other federal departments, such as EDA and HUD, use slightly different definitions for CDCs just to add confusion to the already confusing process of understanding government systems.

Tags: Advice · Government · Grants