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Overcoming the Sceptics to Unlock FEMA Grant Funding

I grew up on a ranch in eastern Montana. The winters were brutal. My daily chores of tending to the livestock were even more challenging in the winter because of the frozen water tanks. I would fill 5-gallon buckets with water and carry them to each animal. With a bucket in each hand, my frozen fingers gripped the metal handles as the icy water splashed against my legs with every step.

“Refreshing!” I would tell myself.


I’d rotate between carrying water buckets and frozen hay bales to the animals in each field. Every day was hard. The winters were long and cold, but I loved the hot, dry summers and the mountain views.


This is why (as far back as I can remember) I have wanted to live in Arizona. It’s the perfect place - for me. It’s hot and dry and has beautiful mountain views, reminiscent of those Montana summers but without the cold winters. 


Since I don’t live in Arizona yet, I am headed to Phoenix in July to do some hiking and enjoy the sunshine in the Grand Canyon State. 


Yes, Phoenix in July. 


While many people opt for a beach vacation, I prefer the desert. If I listened to all the naysayers telling me that Phoenix is too hot in the summer, I would miss out on my dream vacation. 

That’s the thing about listening to the opinions of others. Consider the source and the context of their experience. It’s tempting to let their experiences influence our decisions. But, as public servants, we have a duty to our taxpayers to stretch their dollars and provide top-notch public services to everyone within our jurisdiction.

Just as I refused to let the bitter cold dampen my spirits on those frostbitten mornings, we cannot afford to let others' past setbacks overshadow our aspirations for a brighter tomorrow.


Similarly, in our roles as public servants, we cannot afford to let others' negative experiences or preconceived notions limit our pursuit of opportunities that could greatly benefit our communities. Everyone has an opinion, from where to go on your next vacation to how to spend your department’s budget. Just as I could have missed out on an amazing vacation if I had listened to the cynics, we often have innovative solutions stolen from us after hearing stories of past failures from our colleagues. Worse, we take their warnings to heart without knowing the details of their situation. This means we narrow our possibilities and miss opportunities. 


I have heard numerous local officials, just like you, share experiences of submitting FEMA grant applications. They warn us that these grant applications are too complicated or there is too much competition. When we listen to these stories, either from others or from our own past experiences, without questioning WHY the application was not selected, we limit ourselves.

We need to carefully consider why a grant application was unsuccessful before writing off the possibility for significant improvement that these grants present for our community. Consider some of the typical reasons FEMA grant applications are denied.


Why is coordination with the State important for a FEMA grant application?

As a local government, your project is submitted as a sub-application to your State. The State can choose which sub-applications to include in its application to FEMA, so you need the State Agency’s support for your project to move forward.

Each state’s review process varies and can change from year to year, so it is important to coordinate with your State Agency and be aware of the state’s deadlines as they need sufficient time to review all the sub-applications and have each community address their comments before the FEMA deadline. 


Did your sub-application meet FEMA’s eligibility criteria?

Each FEMA program has eligibility criteria that must be met for the sub-application to be considered. If you are new to FEMA grant applications, the requirements are confusing. The FEMA Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) provides the general criteria, but an experienced FEMA grant writer will know how the general criteria apply to your project. 


Learn more about the Three Basic FEMA BRIC Grant Criteria that apply to FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance programs. The specific FEMA program that you submit to will have additional eligibility criteria.  FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) Program and Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) Program are the most common annual programs to reduce the risk of future flooding in your community.


Why is the state’s deadline important for a FEMA sub-application?

The deadline listed in FEMA’s NOFO is the States' deadline to submit their applications. This is not your deadline as a local government. You will submit your sub-application to your state our state by their deadline for local sub-applications, which can be more than a month before the state’s deadline to submit to FEMA. States may also establish interim deadlines for Notices of Interest (NOIs) or pre-applications from communities. 


These state deadlines are important milestones that allow your state reviewers time to check each sub-application for conformance with the FEMA credit criteria. They also allow time for the communities to address the state comments so their sub-application can be included in the state’s application to FEMA. The state review process is a valuable resource designed to strengthen our sub-application and address any potential gaps or concerns, setting you on the path to securing the funding your community needs.

Your FEMA grant sub-application must be very detailed, and there is little time to prepare your documentation, especially for complex projects. An experienced grant writer preparing your sub-application can help you meet the eligibility criteria, assemble your documentation, and meet the state deadlines. Missing your state’s deadlines can mean your sub-application will not be included in the application to FEMA.



Pursuing FEMA grant funding can be an intimidating process. However, these grants provide a significant opportunity to enhance your flood resilience and reduce the financial burden on your community. Don't let the naysayers hold you back. Just as I've chosen to embrace the adventure that awaits me in the desert landscapes of Arizona, seize the opportunity to pave the way for a more resilient future.


By closely coordinating with your state agency, meticulously adhering to eligibility criteria, and leveraging the expertise of experienced grant writers, you can increase your chances of success. Remember, the state review process is designed to help you strengthen your application and address any potential gaps or concerns. For more information, please read my previous blog on why your FEMA sub-application fell short.



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