If you’re a charitable nonprofit, a state entity, local government or a noncommercial cause-oriented organization, you won’t last long without filling a certain crucial position: grant writer.
The city of Colorado Springs is no exception to this rule. Multiple city employees are directly and indirectly involved in the grant writing process. This year, their efforts will be rewarded by more than $40 million in grants, most of them from the federal government.
From 2014 through 2017, grants have brought in about $180 million — $50 million went to the airport, $30 million to transit, $12 million to police and $7 million to parks, recreation and cultural services. Other major recipients included fire, stormwater, city engineering and community development.
The federal government, as any Republican will tell you, is the principal source of these eagerly sought bonanzas. Your friendly local GOPster will also insist that such handouts should be substantially curbed, even completely discontinued.
He might suggest that you take a look at USAspending.gov, the publicly accessible searchable website that tracks government spending. In 2017, federal agencies distributed $644.4 billion in grants, included in 486,297 transactions. Colorado received a total of $30.9 billion in contracts, grants, loans and “other financial assistance,” including Medicare, food stamps and flood insurance. Grants comprised about 30 to 35 percent of the total.
Our Republican would argue that such grants don’t necessarily go to the greatest needs of local government, but to recipient agencies whose needs/programs fit in with the transient priorities of the Feds. Combine skilled politicians at local and state levels, local funding matches, brilliant grantsmanship and fashionable projects — and the money spigots open wide.
Ask a Democrat, and you may get a different answer. He/she might point to an agenda item from Monday’s City Council work session.
It’s an ordinance authorizing “a supplemental appropriation to the grants fund in the amount of $9.9 million for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program awards funding landslide affected property acquisition and for the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery award funding phase III of the Manitou Incline Corridor Reconstruction project.”
Heavy rainfall and flooding in 2015 triggered landslides in isolated southwest areas of the city. Around 27 homes were so severely damaged that they were condemned. All losses were uninsured, and no rebuilding was possible on the unstable ground.
The city applied for funding from the federal Hazard Mitigation Grants Program, which “provides grants to states and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures after a major disaster declaration.”
HMGP is funded by FEMA grants to the states. It can cover up to 75 percent of the eligible cost of each project. That doesn’t make eligible property owners whole by any means, since they’ll have to part of the demolition and other costs, but it’s a satisfactory resolution to a difficult problem. By law, the properties will be permanently converted to open space.
Similarly, the Manitou Incline is a unique regional treasure. First constructed in 1907 as an incline railway to build and service a hydroelectric plant above Manitou Springs, the former railway bed gains 2,000 feet in elevation in less than a mile. It attracts hundreds of thousands of climbers annually, but it’s sorely in need of maintenance. Flooding has both damaged and destabilized it.
Thanks to coordinated and persistent efforts by multiple entities (both private and governmental), the Incline will get a $2 million facelift. It won’t be as good as new — it’ll be much better.
Yet conservatives might argue the federal government has no business funding an open-air fitness club, especially since the national debt now stands at $19,844,962,412,703. As for the damaged houses — well, life isn’t fair, is it? Should the government step in and alleviate every individual misfortune? And besides, spending all this time and effort on grants has to distort government priorities and magnify inefficiencies.
How would a Democrat respond? Here’s a guess:
“Look, you’ve got a point about the debt and about misallocation of resources. But we have to live in the world as it is, not as we think it should be. So here’s my compromise: forget all those grants, close the Incline and fund a single-payer health system!”
“On second thought, I’m OK with the grants…”