November 30, 2020
As you may have read, it appears likely that the House will reinstate earmarks (member directed spending) for fiscal year 2022. While there is bipartisan support in the Senate, a return to earmarks in that chamber is less certain at this point. The House could proceed on its own. It has been 10 years since earmarks were permitted in Congress. At its height, earmarks accounted for less than one-half of 1% of total annual discretionary spending.
JFNA’s Washington Office worked with several communities between FY2001 – 2010 to secure 110 earmarks valued at more than $30 million in the aggregate. Jewish Family Services were the primary beneficiaries. Funded projects focused on older adult services, family caregiver support, mental health services, developmental disabilities projects, and facility construction/renovation. Most projects were funded between $100 thousand and $300 thousand. Most required a 25% local match (from non-federal sources).
Securing earmarks is a highly competitive process that requires strong public policy justification, good relations with the sponsoring Member/s of Congress and a year of advocacy. Often prioritization is based on a first-come, first-served basis (getting a quality application submitted to your Member of Congress quickly). Rank and file Members will be allotted only a handful of earmark “chits” to use per fiscal cycle. Appropriators and Members with seniority typically have more chits allotted.
On justification, we are in the middle of a significant recession, a new Congress (the 117th) and a presidential transition. Two likely priorities for Congress and the incoming Administration are 1) Supports and services to assist those most impacted by the economic downturn (i.e., food and housing insecurity, job creation/retooling, associated mental health, substance abuse, family violence and other impacts related to Covid-19 disruptions); and 2) Addressing Global Warming (i.e., moving towards a Green economy, environmentally-friendly projects, such as energy-saving mechanical/equipment improvements). Earmark project requests that address these types of issues may get more traction than others in the coming year. Earmarks cannot underwrite existing programming – they must be de novo, innovative in nature.
Based on past practice, a Member will generate an internal application based on what the Appropriations Committee requires of them. Typical application questions:
- Name and location of applicant, an agency point of contact, and a lobbyist point of contact (if applicable).
- The mission of the applicant, types of services, clients served.
- The Appropriation Subcommittee of jurisdiction
- The appropriate Department/Agency/Program account.
- A brief description of project requested.
- A public policy justification for the project (How will project serve a national public interest)
- How will the project serve the state/district.
- How many jobs will be created (if any).
- Any other Members supporting the project.
- A longer description of project requested.
The process is grassroots/locally driven. Typically, a Federation government affairs/JCRC professional on behalf of the agency, or an agency professional, will reach out to a target Member/s, express an interest in applying for an earmark, and requesting an application on behalf of the lead supportive services agency. The Appropriations Subcommittees set deadlines by which Members must submit earmark requests to them (and may vary between subcommittee). The Member offices will establish their own deadlines to conduct internal review and prioritization of the requests received before submitting selected requests for the spending subcommittees to consider. Requesting applicants will have a short window to complete and submit applications and those that furnish all the details as set forth above (not relying on the Member office to do the leg work) will have a significant advantage. JFNA’s Washington office can assist in an advisory capacity. Final award decisions will be included in the final appropriations bills and only at that time, will applicants learn of the results (about a year after the process commences).
First order of business: If an agency is planning or developing new programs and services, especially to respond/address the impacts of the COVID pandemic or advance eco-friendly improvements/economy, an earmark opportunity may be a viable option. Note: This opportunity is not for everyone. There will be agency/administrative oversight and engagement and a likely 25% local funding match.
Second: If at all interested in pursuing an earmark, now is the time to reach out to your Member offices to express an interest, to ask for an application (or be added to a distribution list for future information or application if one is not available), and any instructions and deadlines. Be prepared to explain generally what your project request intends to accomplish.
Third: Share your application interest with Darcy Hirsh, NJHSA’s Washington Representative, and request to be added to Rob Goldberg JFNA’s Senior Director, Legislative Affairs’ distribution list for information and guidance. Once more is learned about the rules, timeline, process, interested parties will be updated. While specifics are still fluid and mirky, past earmark application submissions in a normal appropriations cycle were due to Member offices between late January-to late February and will be specific to each respective office. Similar expeditious timeline should earmarks may be reinstated in FY 2022.