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Paperwork that Pays

For people writing grant proposals on behalf of youth-serving nonprofits, few applications can look as daunting as those for the federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). An organization that provides court-appointed child advocates in Houston says its application totaled 116 pages.

But for many groups, the payoff is well worth it: CDBG money recently added a wing to a youth shelter in Denver, brought mentoring and life-skills programming to schools in Grand Rapids, Mich., and provided job training and placement for Native American youth in Portland, Ore.

The grants served more than 1 million youth in fiscal 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which runs the 34-year-old program. HUD provides block grants to states and municipalities, which use the money to fund local projects.

Reason to smile: CDBGs fund health, education, employment, recreation and substance abuse prevention programs for youths like these in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Photo: Grand Rapids Dept. of Parks and Recreation.

“It is a large and relatively flexible funding source,” says Roxana Torrico, senior program associate at the Washington-based Finance Project and author of the report, “Using CDBG to Support Community-Based Youth Programs,” published in January. “It is a substantial amount of funding to states and communities to service youth of low and moderate income.”

“It’s one of the most widely accessed sources for youth programs,” says Phillip Lovell, vice president for education policy at Washington-based First Focus. “It’s not enough for a full program, but any little bit counts.”

That despite the fact that CDBG funding has been shrinking for years; the program was funded at $3.7 billion in 2006, down 10 percent from the previous year. Seventy percent of the 2006 money went to cities and urban counties and 30 percent to states.

Federal law stipulates that the funds be aimed at low- to moderate-income people and help prevent or eliminate blight or address other urgent community needs.

While only 15 percent of CDBG funds in a given jurisdiction can be used to provide services – perhaps the most obvious reason for a youth-serving agency to fill out a Request for Proposals (RFP) – agencies can also use the money for capital needs, which is the CDBG’s primary focus. The program also funds economic development initiatives, like micro-enterprise assistance, that can be geared toward youth populations.

CDBG hopefuls need to familiarize themselves with HUD’s regulations and how the RFP process works in their local areas, according to Torrico’s report. It says youth-serving agencies should:

• Find out whether their jurisdiction gets CDBG funding.

• Ask the administering office – usually a state or county community or economic development office – for the five-year consolidated plan and the annual action plan.

• Determine how their program’s goals and priorities align with what’s laid out in those plans.

• Choose projects or activities to seek funding for, including existing projects.

• Identify key players and develop relationships. Those could include government community and economic development officials; members of committees that make funding decisions, which consist of state legislators for state-administered money or local council members in cities and counties; community advocates who know the history and politics; and other service providers, especially those who already receive CDBG funds.

“It is important for program leaders to look to their community to see how [the money] is allocated, and to try to understand that process,” Torrico says. “If youth programs aren’t currently a priority, how is it that they can advocate or try to influence community priorities so that youth are at the top of that list? … There’s definitely going to be a need for research and relationship-building during that process.”

A final challenge is filling out the paperwork, says Melissa Treadway, grants manager for Child Advocates Inc., a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) agency in Houston that receives CDBG money. “You have to have five copies, everything signed in blue ink,” she says. “It has to be tabbed. It has to be submitted by 2 p.m. on a certain day. It’s not online – everything needs to be mailed in. It’s gotten to be kind of comical.”

Under the CDBG’s programs and services category, funds can be used for services in health, welfare, education, employment, recreation and substance abuse prevention. The Finance Project report notes that in a community that’s not already spending the maximum 15 percent of its allotment for programs and services, youth programs will have an easier time gaining funding, because they won’t have to compete with current grantees.

Capital projects might have an easier time gaining CDBG funding because there is no restriction on how much a jurisdiction can allot to them, the report says. But CDBG funds in and of themselves seldom provide enough to finance such projects.

A third category of possible funding can be targeted to older youth with an entrepreneurial bent, the report says. Funds under this Microenterprise Assistance stream can be used for technical assistance to help youths start businesses, or as matching funds for individual development account (IDA) programs, which can pay for education or job training, buy a home or start a business. Youths also can receive employment, training and support services in businesses already funded through CDBG.

“It’s a funding stream that will definitely be here to stay, and it’s a huge priority for the mayors,” Lovell says. “But kids aren’t always at the top of the priority list as the HUD offices are giving out those funds.”

The recent report is available at http://www.financeproject.org/publications/CDBGyouthprograms.pdf.

Following are example of how youth-serving agencies have used CDBGs.

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