Federal shutdown leaves fire grants adrift

When it comes to your grants, here's what to expect and what to do during the federal government shutdown

A few weeks ago everyone was trying to predict whether or not the government would shut down and if it did how long would it last. The first question has been answered, and there doesn't appear to be a solution in sight.

The last government shutdown was 1995 and it lasted three weeks. This time we could easily challenge that record.

The administration and Senate Democrats have dug their trenches, and so too have House Republicans — and no one is willing to broker any type of a peace agreement. So, it's hard to foresee an end to the impasse, because House Republicans want something President Barack Obama isn't willing to give: a reversal on the Affordable Care Act.

With no election in November, the calendar doesn't provide any incentive to compromise because both sides believe that the electorate will forget about this by the 2014 off-year elections.

Empty desks
If your department is like many others, you are probably wondering how the government shutdown will affect it. If you have tried to call the helpdesk to get answers, you already know that they are a victim of the impasse and temporarily unable to help.

Also furloughed are all FEMA staff that deal with the SAFER and AFG programs. This means that the staff who normally monitors progress reports and approves grant draw downs are not working. Thus no payments will be made to grantees and no new awards will be announced.

How long the shutdown is in place will determine how backlogged these offices will be and how quickly they will be able to get funds moving once the shutdown ends. Because of this, your department may want to delay purchases funded by AFG until the government returns to normal.

The shutdown will also affect the opening dates for FEMA's 2013 AFG and FP&S applications. Again, the personnel who deal with these two programs have been furloughed.

Again, the amount of backlog FEMA staffers faces when they return will determine when the programs open. A long government shutdown could easily translate into long delay in opening these grant program.

FEMA says
Here are some other issues that were covered by FEMA in a press release just prior to Oct. 1.

  • Grantees will not be able to draw down funds for SAFER, AFG or Fire Prevention and Safety grants because these rely on manual processes that will not be staffed during a lapse in appropriations.
  • FEMA will not announce FY2013 AFG or SAFER awards during the lapse in appropriations, and reimbursement for SAFER invitational travelers will be delayed.
  • Grant-funded projects for which funding has been awarded, obligated and released by FEMA will not be affected by the lapse — FY2014 appropriations and work can continue unimpeded.
  • Grantees can draw down funds from the Response, Recovery, Mitigation, National Preparedness and Grant Programs Directorate-managed grants through the Payment and Reporting System and Smart-link systems if all reporting submissions are up to date and holds on funding are released.
  • The disaster declaration and request process will remain unchanged. Grantees will be able to draw down grant funds from disaster declarations through requests to the National Emergency Management Information System system if all reporting submissions are up to date and holds on funding are released.
  • Manual (paper) requests for grant reimbursements will not be processed during the lapse.
  • Grantees are advised to make sure that all Semi-Annual Performance Reports and Federal Financial Status Reports (SF-425) are submitted prior to close of business Oct. 30. Delinquent reports can and will result in system-based holds and grantees will be unable to draw funds out of PARS if they remain delinquent.

This temporary delay in opening the 2013 AFG and FP&S grant applications should not deter your department from applying. In fact if you have not already started to plan your 2013 application, now is the time to initiate that process.

We suggest that you use this time to assemble the information that you will need to prepare a highly competitive application for these two programs. Remember, all of the 2013 AFG technical assistance tools and guides are still available on the FEMA AFG website.

In addition, Fire Grants Help is not an agency of the federal government and not affected by the budget impasse or the shutdown. We are still available to answer your questions and to assist with your department's 2013 application. 

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