by Max Marbut
Florida’s share of funding and grants from federal sources decreased in 2006 compared to the previous year and Florida’s share of federal grants is currently well below the national average. Those two points were made at a Monday meeting of the Florida Legislative Committee on Intergovernmental Relations (LCIR).
The committee, chaired by State Sen. Tony Nelson, met in Jacksonville Monday to hear results of the federal funding survey and get details of an initiative developed by LCIR staff and supported by the Florida League of Cities, Inc. to reverse the trend and bring more federal dollars into the state at all levels.
According to the report, in 2006 federal direct expenditures to Florida totaled $143 billion or $7,903 per capita based on the 2006 population estimate of 18.1 million. Florida had the fourth-largest expenditure of all states, but on a per capita basis the state ranked 25th, down from 23rd among all states in 2005.
Direct payments for individuals for retirement and disability constituted the largest category of federal direct expenditure. That includes Social Security payments, federal retirement and disability payments and veterans’ benefits. Florida’s direct payments in the category totaled $52.7 billion and accounted for 37 percent of the state’s total direct federal expenditure. It was the second-largest total among all states, which was unchanged from 2005 and ranked 7th on a per capita basis, down from 5th in 2005.
The next largest category of federal direct expenditure was payments for individuals other than retirement and disability including Medicare benefits, Excess Earned Income Tax Credits, Unemployment Compensation and Food Stamp payments.
The amount of federal grant obligation made to Florida in 2006 totaled $22.5 billion, or $1,243 per capita and represented 16 percent of total federal direct expenditures in the state. Florida had the fifth-largest obligation total of the 50 states, down from 50th in 2005, but the state ranked 46th on a per capita basis, down from the 2005 ranking of 44th.
Steve O’Kane, LCIR senior staff analyst said in 2006 federal grants were down by $100 million compared to 2005 and added, “The data suggests Florida has lost ground compared to other states.”
He also said Florida’s share of federal grants has been “well below the national average since 1996.”
O’Kane pointed out Florida’s rapid population growth is one factor hindering the state from keeping up in terms of per capita federal spending and said most federal funds are not distributed based on population.
One way to reverse the trend is to encourage all municipalities in the state to seek more funds from the 1,200 programs currently in the federal grant catalog.
“Individual elected officials have little control over how much federal money the state receives,” said O’Kane. “But perhaps a collaborative effort among lawmakers could go a long way toward improving Florida’s share of federal funds.”
Toward that end the Florida League of Cities is supporting a program designed to make it easier for Florida cities, especially smaller municipalities, to apply for and receive federal grant dollars. It’s based on a new Web site, www.grants.gov.
Carolyn Horwich, LCIR senior staff attorney, said the Web site will be an asset for Florida’s cities.
“The good news is it’s easier to get federal dollars than it was six months ago,” she said. “The Web site allows local governments to register at one site that’s tied to all federal agencies. The Web site can provide daily updates on all available funds. Now it really is a one-stop shop.”
Horwich also said some Florida cities employ people for the sole purpose of writing federal grant applications and explained, “It takes resources to pull down resources.”
“We have to make the process more accessible,” said Senior Legislative Advocate Dee Wood-Cooper from the Florida League of Cities. “Eighty-five percent of Florida municipalities have populations of 25,000 people or less, so they don’t have large staffs which can make it difficult to seek federal grants because they don’t have the resources to comb trough all the programs to determine which ones they might qualify for.
“The Web site can really help with that part of the process. The federal grant numbers are dismal considering the budget shortfalls faced by so many municipalities. Federal grants should be an important revenue stream.”
Top 10 federal grant expenditures to Florida state and local governments
(Federal fiscal year 2006)
Source: “Federal Aid to States for Fiscal Year 2006,” U.S. Government Printing Office