Federal Grants and Florida: A Spending Deficit

Posted by David Lipten on Jul 31, 2013 8:17:00 AM

Federal grants and Florida spending per capita discrepanciesIn 2010, the state of Florida received some of the most generous funding amounts of any state from the federal government in the form of direct expenditures, including grant support, as it has for quite some time. But it never seems to be enough (in spite of the many calls for cuts to federal spending coming from state politicians, including many of Florida’s). Its citizens are repeatedly told that there isn’t enough money for things like education, infrastructure, housing, and so forth.

Why should this be the case if, as reported by the Florida Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research (using U.S. Census data), Florida received $187 billion in federal support, the fourth highest of any state? In fact, Florida enjoyed the 5th highest amount of grant support given to any of the fifty states for Health and Human Services, the 4th highest for Education, the 5th highest for Transportation, the 6th highest for Housing and Urban Development, the 4th highest for Agriculture, and the 5th highest for Homeland Security. Per capita, the federal government spent $9,930 on Floridians in 2010, the third highest in the U.S.

[W]hy is there such low per capita spending from all of the federal grants received? Why isn’t Florida receiving more grants to support the needs of its population?

Despite being one of the top state recipients of federal funding, Florida itself is ranked 48th in spending on a per capita basis, with expenditures of its federal grants proceeds consistently well below the respective national average on a per capita basis. This is true even while such spending increased from $586 per capita in 1996 to $1,475 in 2010. These expenditures amounted to $507 less than the national average in 2010 in spite of the fact that Florida was on the receiving end of the 4th largest amount of all federal grants expended in the country in 2010 (or $27.7 billion).

The preceding begs some important questions, then—namely, why is there such low per capita spending from all of the federal grants received? Why isn’t Florida receiving more grants to support the needs of its population? Also, where is all the money that the state has received going, and where are all the services and benefits that the money is supposed to be providing?

Florida receives significant federal funding yet ranks low when it comes to per capita spending

The first question may be somewhat easier to answer. First, funding formulas are often based on outdated population figures that don’t reflect Florida’s growth in recent years.  They are also difficult to revise since smaller states lobby hard to keep them where they are as they stand to lose support if the formulas are updated (there are echoes of the reasons cited by the Supreme Court for striking down a provision of the Voting Rights Act here).

As to the second question, again, while Florida has been successful to a point in procuring funding (again, $27.7 billion received), the state may not have been as aggressive as it could have in going after all of the federal grant opportunities available to it. In fact, Florida was still $8.1 billion short of the expenditure level predicted by the state’s population. In other words, Florida should have received something closer to $35.8 billion in grant support.

I do not have an answer to the third question (i.e., where is all the money going?). I do know ... that Florida officials ought to be questioned on this and held accountable.

To be fair, there may also be a dearth of matching funds and there may be onerous federal requirements that limit the receipt of grant funding. Still, I’m not sure that these conditions would necessarily account for such a large gap.

I do not have an answer to the third question (i.e., where is all the money going?). I do know, though, that it is a shame and that Florida officials ought to be questioned on this and held accountable (something increasingly difficult to do when there is so much political obfuscation). That said, there are steps to take that might help close the gap. In fact, the Florida Legislative Committee on Intergovernmental Relations made a number of recommendations in 2008 that local governments undertake a number of practices to, at least, improve Florida’s grant seeking abilities. Among other things, the committee called for:

  • Collaboration between local governments and regional entities to explore meeting eligibility requirements for certain grants
  • Determining whether full advantage of grant opportunities is being taken by these entities by comparing their efforts with neighboring or similarly situated local governments
  • Developing direct rapport with personnel from granting agencies once suitable grants have been identified
  • Identifying federal and state policy changes needed to enhance Florida’s access to federal funding streams
  • Supporting state efforts to form coalitions with similarly situated states to pursue changes in outdated or inequitable federal formulas
  • Working to implement changes to federal formulas determined to be outdated or inequitable
  • Pursuing increased availability of state matching funds or other locally available funds
  • Investing in training provided at the state and local levels for accessing federal and state grant funding
  • Increasing communication and coordination on federal funding issues among state agencies, the governor’s office, the Florida Washington office, the legislature, and the congressional delegation
  • Enlisting the assistance from congressional offices to provide letters of support when competing with local governments from other states

And, importantly, from my perspective:

Of course, the preceding recommendations, while seemingly helpful, may or may not help close the gap between funding received and what’s needed. I would like to see the state address these issues. What do you think will help?

About the Author

David Lipten, Ph.D., successful grant writerDavid Lipten, Ph.D., owner/consultant at GrantWorkshas written winning federal grant proposals on behalf of a number of electric utilities, garnering nearly $40 million in U.S. Department of Energy grants, among other successes. He is based in Tallahassee, FL.  He can be contacted at  granted2u@gmail.com.



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Topics: Federal Grants, State Grants, Grant Seeking, Grant Making