$1.5 Billion in New Grant Funding Available from Economic Development Administration for Broadband & Other Projects

Heather Mills, Team Lead, Funding Strategies
Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, Principal Grant Strategist

The recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act added $1.5 billion to an existing grant program of the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA).

This is a significant opportunity, both because of the size of the allocation and its breadth of eligibility. The grants are available to local and state governments, non-profits, and other non-commercial entities that have a compelling case for using infrastructure projects (including broadband initiatives) to ameliorate the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis.

This is also an opportunity that demands quick action. EDA will receive applications and make awards on a rolling basis, so applicants with projects in advanced planning stages (and even those with a strong concept and an ability to quickly develop a project plan) should move rapidly to submit their applications.

Broadband Projects That Will Help Address Coronavirus Challenges Are Eligible

The EDA’s significant funding allocation—announced in an addendum to EDA’s notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) on May 7th—can be used for broadband projects (in addition to other types of projects) that will strengthen economic resilience, diversify the economy and workforce, or support recovery in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. (Examples of successful past projects can be found on EDA’s website—though we anticipate the new funding to be awarded to a broader range of broadband projects.)

Under EDA’s rules, awards could range from relatively small ($100,000) to substantial ($30 million), though we anticipate that more modestly sized applications (of a few million dollars rather than tens of millions) will be most competitive.

All localities, no matter how rural or urban, are eligible to apply for these grants. For purposes of the CARES Act funds, EDA has determined that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic constitutes a “special need,” and has extended eligibility to all areas of the country. (By comparison, EDA’s non-CARES Act funding is available only for economically distressed areas, as demonstrated by higher than average unemployment or low per capita income.)

Applicants Need to Demonstrate How Their Project Will Create Jobs

While the nationwide special need designation lowers one significant barrier for eligibility, applicants must still explain how their project would mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the economy and, specifically, how it will create jobs. Funded projects need to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus” or respond to “economic injury as a result of coronavirus,” according to the NOFO addendum (which reflects the language of the CARES Act).

In other words, applicants will need to clearly demonstrate how their proposals will benefit businesses—and the sooner, the better. That means applicants should seek to engage the business community in their application planning. Ideally, an applicant would be able to submit letters from businesses that can attest to direct, quantifiable potential benefits of the proposed project—such as a certain number of jobs to be created or retained. Letters of support from the business community might also describe the operational challenges that the proposed project could ameliorate. The more specifically an applicant can project the economic development outcomes of a proposed project, the stronger the application.

Grants are Also Available for Planning and Technical Assistance Efforts

Economic Adjustment Assistance grants can support planning and technical assistance projects necessary to plan and implement new solutions for economic resiliency. Eligible broadband projects could include broadband planning efforts for the deployment of infrastructure.

EDA’s NOFO addendum does not clearly define the type of planning and technical assistance projects that would be eligible for funding, but encourages potential applicants to engage with their regional EDA representatives prior to submitting an application to discuss the proposed project’s “alignment with EDA’s mission and Investment Priorities.”

Local and State Governments Are Eligible—as Are Nonprofits and Higher Education Institutions

Eligible entities include city, township, county, or special district governments; state governments; federally recognized tribal governments; nonprofits, aside from institutions of higher education; private institutions of higher education; and public and state-controlled institutions of higher education.

Importantly, nonprofits must partner with a local government jurisdiction or other “subdivision of a State” in order to apply.

While for-profit private entities are not eligible for the grants, there is a critical role for private companies because the program is designed to create benefit to private sector employment. As EDA puts it, the funding should “help communities catalyze public-private partnerships to foster collaboration, attract investment, create jobs, and foster economic resiliency and prosperity.” As a result, viable applications will demonstrate support for the proposed project by the business community in the area to be served, as well as job creation benefits by the private sector.

Rolling Applications Mean Time Is of the Essence

As with much of the CARES Act funding, time is of the essence. EDA is already processing applications for the new funds, and is expected to continue making awards until its funds are depleted. While the funding pool is large, we expect the money to be allocated quickly—so applications should be prepared and submitted as quickly as feasible.

Applicants Need to Commit Matching Funds

For purposes of the new CARES Act funding, EDA requires a 20 percent match. Though EDA will reduce that amount under unique circumstances, our sense is that applicants that cannot commit to the full match will struggle to compete for these funds. State funding can serve as the match—as can in-kind services and other expenses.

Applicants Need to Reference a Pertinent Economic Development Strategy

Another requirement defined by the statute is a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for the applicant or the region or state in which the applicant is located. Essentially, EDA wants to see that the state, region, or locality has one of these formal economic development plans that contemplates the type of project the applicant is proposing. In other words, broadband had to have previously been on the local or state government’s radar.

If an applicant does not have a CEDS, there is still hope. If a locality, region, or state has an economic development plan in place, the EDA will consider using that plan in place of a formal CEDS. For the purposes of the CARES Act funds, EDA has suggested that it will be flexible in accepting alternatives to what otherwise are a strict set of requirements for CEDS equivalency.

We Are Available to Help

CTC can help with the full range of tasks related to EDA grant applications, from articulating a project concept to preparing an application package. Please let us know if we can help you:

  • Develop a grant strategy and refine a project concept
  • Engage with an EDA regional representative at the start of the application process
  • Develop a checklist of required project documentation and application requirements
  • Develop technical and financial models for your proposed project
  • Draft narrative sections of your application
  • Review a draft project budget
  • Edit and refine draft application packages
  • Assist you in creating an online application account (through and/or and submitting your application

Contact Information for CTC’s Team

Please do not hesitate to reach out with questions about EDA grants, other funding streams, or your other broadband planning needs.

Heather Mills, Team Lead, Funding Strategies, 202.701.4526

Ziggy Rivkin-Fish, Principal Grant Strategist, 859.608.4043

Published: Thursday, May 21, 2020 by CTC Technology & Energy