By Jerry Brant
Through its Community Facilities Program, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has provided assistance to rural communities and services, including fire and EMS for the past three decades. In recent years the amount of funding available through this program has remained stagnant, especially through its grant program. That situation recently changed with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Utilizing ARRA funding, USDA has developed a special vehicle and equipment initiative for rural communities that has $600 million available nationwide.
In some ways the ARRA initiative mirrors the existing Community Facilities Program. It uses the same application documents and format. It employs the same funding categories offering grants, low-interest loans, grant and loan combinations, and loan guarantees. But it also has one major difference from the usual Community Facilities Program; it is only open to municipalities.
To qualify for the program you must be a municipal entity located in a community with a population of 20,000 or less. In other words, if you are a fire or EMS department you must be controlled by the municipality to be eligible for this funding. If you are a stand-alone, non-profit fire or EMS department then you are not eligible for this special initiative. You may however qualify for assistance through USDA's regular Community Facilities Program.
For this special ARRA Initiative, communities can purchase vehicles and equipment that are needed to provide essential community services such as: police cars, road maintenance equipment, fire apparatus and equipment, EMS vehicles and computer and other office equipment.
The initiative is offering grants of 35 percent, 55 percent or 75 percent of the project cost depending of the community's economic demographics.
The maximum amount of grant funding is capped at $100,000, although it could be higher if you are purchasing multiple vehicles.
USDA regional offices are taking applications through September 30 for this program. A word of caution: this is a first come, first serve offering, if you are considering filing an application for this program then you should do so as quickly as possible. You can find out more information on this initiative by contacting your regional office of USDA. Remember this is a one-time funding opportunity. These funds will not be available next year.