My Fundraising HayDay podcast co-host and dear friend Amanda Day experienced a new way of looking at things during a recent vacation. While the new ice cream flavors and beautiful seascapes she discovered along the coast of Maine must have been breathtaking, a singular revelation came to her as she squinted at her phone. A friend noticed her discomfort and lent her reading glasses—literally changing how Amanda saw everything!
She returned home, visited her ophthalmologist, and now sports fashion-forward glasses that have transformed her vision. What does this have to do with winning grants under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL)?
Quite a bit.
In a significant change in federal grant-making opportunities and requirements, grant seekers for BIL funding must prove that at least 40% of their projects benefit underserved communities. Nicknamed Justice40, this initiative challenges local governments and nonprofit agencies to actively engage people living in disadvantaged communities in participating in the planning of major infrastructure improvements such as bridges, public transportation, clean air and water initiatives, and more. Justice40 can potentially change how we view public works projects and how we measure their benefits to populations most in need.
Justice40 also provides grant professionals, planners, and others involved in seeking BIL funding a specific tool to define disadvantaged communities in the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST). Keeping with the vision theme, CEJST serves as a magnifying glass to clearly define communities in need.
So now, everything is coming into sharp focus with the dynamic duo of Justice40 and CEJST, right? Not so fast.
Here are two critical elements to consider:
- It’s true that the Executive Order for Justice40 defining disadvantaged communities as “marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution” is a clear and positive step in environmental justice. But just like getting fitted for a new eyeglass prescription, things may get a little blurrier with multiple lens tests before everything is perfectly clear.
For example, CEJST uses 2010 data to define census tracts that comprise disadvantaged communities. In the latest episode of the Fundraising HayDay Podcast, https://haydayservices.com/bipartisan-infrastructure-law-bil/, we talk about a grant writer in a fast-growing county where the requirement of using CEJST for BIL grants presented some challenges in matching older data with actual need.
- Community/stakeholder involvement is critical to Justice40. More importantly, it’s sound planning and program development. However, the most current White House-issued Interim Guidance only provides the following: “When determining the benefits of a covered program, as specified in section IV(A), agencies should consult with stakeholders, including state, local, and Tribal governments, as well as Native communities, to ensure public participation and that community stakeholders are meaningfully involved in what constitutes the “benefits” of a program.” While NOFOs/OFAs/RFPs and technical assistance webinars for individual grants programs may include more detailed guidance, understanding and implementing this essential piece of Justice40 in ways that make sense for your agency and the communities you serve is critical to a successful BIL application.
You could say that BIL grants have the vision of changing the world, much like a snazzy new pair of reading glasses—it just depends on how you look at it!
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