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In the United States, federal grants are economic aid issued by the United States government out of the general federal revenue. A federal grant is an award of financial assistance from a federal agency to a recipient to carry out a public purpose of support or stimulation authorized by a law of the United States.
Outside the United States grants, subventions or subsidies are used to in similar fashion by government or private charities to subsidize programs and projects that fit within the funding criteria of the grant-giving entity or donor. Grants can be unrestricted, to be used by the recipient in any fashion within the perimeter of the recipient organization's activities or they may be restricted to a specific purpose by the benefactor.
Federal grants are defined and governed by the Federal Grant and Cooperative Agreement Act of 1977, as incorporated in Title 31 Section 6304 of the U.S. Code. A Federal grant is a:
"...legal instrument reflecting the relationship between the United States Government and a State, a local government, or other entity when 1) the principal purpose of the relationship is to transfer a thing of value to the State or local government or other recipient to carry out a public purpose of support or stimulation authorized by a law of the United States instead of acquiring (by purchase, lease, or barter) property or services for the direct benefit or use of the United States Government; and 2) substantial involvement is not expected between the executive agency and the State, local government, or other recipient when carrying out the activity contemplated in the agreement."
When an awarding agency expects to be substantially involved in a project (beyond routine monitoring and technical assistance), the law requires use of a cooperative agreement instead. When the government is procuring goods or services for its own direct benefit, and not for a broader public purpose, the law requires use of a federal contract.
There are over 900 grant programs offered by the 26 federal grant-making agencies. These programs fall into 21 categories:
Award information in grants generally includes:
Eligibility information includes:
Federal and state grants frequently receive criticism due to what are perceived to be excessive regulations and not include opportunities for small business, as well as for often giving more money per person to smaller states regardless of population or need. These criticisms include problems of overlap, duplication, excessive categorization, insufficient information, varying requirements, arbitrary federal decision-making, and grantsmanship (a funding bias toward entities most familiar with how to exploit the system, rather than to those most in need).