What the presidential transition can mean for federal grants

What the presidential transition can mean for federal grants
Page 1 of the list of federal grants awarded to Horry County for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2016.
Page 1 of the list of federal grants awarded to Horry County for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2016.
Page 2 of the list of Horry County's awarded federal grants.
Page 2 of the list of Horry County's awarded federal grants.

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The White House will be turned over to the new first family on Friday as the country inaugurates President-elect Donald Trump.  It's a transition that occurs every four to eight years, and can spark a lot of questions, even anxiety, about the future of federal grants.  City, county and state agencies depend on federal grant money to improve and continue programs aimed to improve a public problem.

Jacqueline Kurlowski is the director for Coastal Carolina University's Dyer Institute for Leadership and Public Policy.  She described grant money as a policy tool used by the federal government and states to make positive and needed changes to a community.

"It's sort of a tool. We can help change someone's behavior when it comes to substance abuse, teen pregnancy, a police department's response to police violence. So giving them more education, more training, that often comes in the form of grant money," Kurlowski explained.

Grant money reflects the priorities of an administration.  Police brutality issues front-lined national policy change during the Obama Administration.  Many federal grants awarded to police departments across the nation were given to purchase body worn cameras.  A public policy change like this is an example of how federal money can be used to improve the public and change behavior, in this case improving accountability for both police and citizens.

Grant money has recently been used at agencies like Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue.  The department applied for and was awarded a federal grant so they could hire more firefighters to match the community's need.  The department has also recently applied for a federal grant to buy filtration systems to capture cancer-causing fumes from the fire truck engine.  Some agencies are worried the transition from presidents and parties will effect their chances of attaining a federal grant.

Kurlowski said it's not likely money used for grants specific to fire departments, for example, will disappear.

"It's not so much the grant money will shift or go away…a lot of the current grants in the field will probably run full term.  They might not be renewed under the new administration because the granting methods, the types of grants, the types of money and the types of programs the grant money supports is likely to change in the future," she said.

A new presidential administration means different priorities, but it does not mean the grant money for certain initiatives, like more firefighters or improved education, will dry up.  Kurlowski explained the difference using a general American problem both political parties want to fix.

"It's not so much the grant money that changes, it's the type of grant money.  So I think we'll see a public policy shift towards a more Republican agenda. A good example here is federal grants for teen pregnancy. Teen pregnancy prevention grants flow into the states for help with providing birth control, education about pregnancy prevention...but if the administration shifts, they might shift from a prevention stand point to more of an abstinence-based standpoint," she said.

Kurlowski said she expects a decentralized federal government with the Trump Administration, which would give more control to the states.  One way the federal government gives control to states is through community block grants.  These grants are awarded to states, but what that grant money goes toward is up to that individual state.

"On one hand, states need that control to craft programming, to craft money to funnel grants in to areas of high need.  Some states often lack the capacity to make that happen, because states are different.  Each state is like their own little incubator of democracy.  Each state, kind of like people, has different personalities, different issues…and I think it'll be really interesting to see how states respond to the new shift in administration and some adjustments in the granting process," Kurlowski said.

Different states have different issues.  Childhood obesity is more prominent in South Carolina than other states.  So, for example, South Carolina may budget a larger portion of community block grant money to go toward programs battling childhood obesity than other states would use. Southwestern states, for example, would spend more money on border patrol than eastern states.

According to Horry County documents, the county received $3.8 million worth of federal grants during the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016.  The majority went to direct assistance, which includes the over $1 million community block grant the county received.  Other federal grants the county received covered emergency shelters, FEMA disaster relief and homeland security.  Homeland security grants improved SWAT and Bomb Team improvements for the Pee Dee region.

The federal fiscal year ends September 30.  Obama's approved budgets, and grant money, will run until then.  The Trump Administration has until September 30 to prioritize and decide which public issues to tackle, the approach to take to do so and where to find the money in the budget to make it happen.  Based on President-elect Trump's agenda, Kurlowski said it's unlikely first responders, like Myrtle Beach Fire Rescue, will suffer in their pursuit of grants to improve departments.  However, federal grants, especially highly sought fire rescue grants, are competitive to win.

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