One of my all-time favorite grants is the USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant. I’ve written quite a lot of these for both telemedicine and distance learning applications; for both hospitals and schools. The USDA likes to use what I call “Congressional Math” to help sort out applicants. For full-disclosure, I just submitted one of these for a client asking for $499,892. And I was surprised at the number of changes in the “ranking formula” from the last time I submitted so I thought I would share some of my observations.
One of the key factors in this grant is that the school or hospital should be located in a rural area. If you are in a place with a population less than 5,000 folks you score 40 points. More than 20,000, you score a big fat zero. As you might imagine picking the sites that end up being part of an application is an art. But the big change here is the USDA went away from determining the population of the end user site from using the census population of the Metropolitan Statistical Area to the population of the Municipality that the site falls in whether that is a town, a township, a borough, etc. As an example, the Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College, PA, is located in the middle of a cow field next to Beaver Stadium. Under the old rurality rules, it fell into the MSA for State College and thus scored a rurality of 0. Under the new rules, it lies just outside the State College Borough city line and thus scores 30. I love the new rules.
Here is a new rule I do not like. The Economic Need rules. It used to be based on the number of students participating in the free or reduced lunch program. And you could also argue that didn’t reflect the actual economic need. Like in Mifflin County there is a lot of Amish and they do not participate in that Federal program so it excludes a big percent of the population. Now they use the SAIPE. Or for those not familiar, this is the U.S. Census Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates Program. I suppose it is easier but this last round the points didn’t help me out and I even excluded an entire county since they showed a SAIPE of 9.9 percent poverty which scored 0 points. Adding them would have dropped the overall score by three points and let me tell you based on experience, three points can be the deciding factor of getting the grant or not getting the grant. So they had to go. (Sorry). I will say that SAIPE is just starting to try to sort out actual poverty of citizens below 18 and these figures would have netted a much higher score since all of our target on this last grant was high school students. Maybe USDA will allow this later?
Now here is a new rule that I have mixed feelings on. It is the match percentage. The new rule states you must have a 15 % cash or in-kind match to be eligible to apply. It used to be that you got points based on how much match you add. Just a few points for a 15 % match and a lot of points for a 100 % plus match. I am mixed on this. It is a lot easier to just come up with a 15 % match. Lots more people can apply making the competition harder and if you show a lot more match you don’t get any extra points at all. In the case of my client, we submitted with a match of 123 %. There are advantages to putting more match then you need in case USDA decides part of your match doesn’t qualify, you have some wiggle room.
Well let me end by saying that I am extremely happy to have submitted this fully functional and extremely competitive grant application on May 15th, 2019. We won’t find out till maybe October 2019 if we got it. You never know? The next USDA DLT round will probably be due May 2020 so if you are thinking about this it is not to early to start planning. I’d be glad to help out as well just send me a note. My web site is https://www.RathlinCastle.com and I offer a full range of grant strategic services.
You can reach the grant website at https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/distance-learning-telemedicine-grants