What FEMA Funding Program Should I Apply For?

image description

Annie Vest

Planner VI

Every year, FEMA announces available funding for the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) and Flood Mitigation Assistance (FMA) programs. This year, the announcement was a bit delayed due to the threat of a government shutdown, but the eventual announcement of $1.8 billion in hazard mitigation funding made the wait worthwhile. Since the release of the BRIC and FMA funding details, I’ve been receiving a steady stream of calls with various questions – both from within our organization and from client communities. Questions like how to apply, what qualifies for funding, the likelihood of project selection, and how to choose the best project to submit are common. These are all valid questions, yet each project often has its own specific considerations, making it challenging to provide a one-size-fits-all answer. The truth is I could write an entire series of tips and tricks for successful applications. Therefore, we thought it would be useful to offer some general advice that could be beneficial to anyone, regardless of their project.

Should I apply for BRIC or FMA?

BRIC, often seen as the more modern and dynamic counterpart to FEMA’s highly successful FMA program, shares many similarities in terms of eligibility requirements. However, the key difference lies in their focus areas: BRIC is designed for all-hazard mitigation, whereas FMA is specifically tailored for flood mitigation. The main goal of the Flood Mitigation Assistance program is to reduce the risk associated with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). It targets projects that can immediately lessen the impact on NFIP-insured structures. If your project isn’t specifically about flood mitigation, then BRIC may be the better opportunity with no need for additional information.

When considering a flood mitigation project for application, it’s important to ask a few key questions about the area in question:

1. Are there NFIP-insured structures, and if so, how many?

2. In cases where there are few NFIP-insured structures but a significant flood risk, assess if the area is underserved or disadvantaged according to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Climate Justice and Economic Screening Tool (CJEST). If it is, consider whether the lack of flood insurance might be an issue of equity.

3. If neither of the above conditions apply your flood mitigation project may still be a good fit for BRIC funding.

How to apply:

If you’re considering applying for either BRIC or FMA, your first step should be to reach out to your State Hazard Mitigation Officer (SHMO). They usually manage both programs at the state level, though in some states, the FMA program might be handled by a different state agency. Even so, your SHMO can guide you to the right contact. FEMA provides a list of SHMOs for each state.

Typically, states establish a deadline for potential sub-applicants to submit a Notice of Intent (NOI) or Letter of Interest (LOI). These deadlines vary and, in many cases, might have already passed for this year. After you submit your NOI or LOI, the state will let you know the next steps if your project is eligible.

For both BRIC and FMA, applications need to be submitted through FEMA Go. If your project is deemed eligible and you’re encouraged to apply, set up a FEMA Go account as soon as possible. This process can be time-consuming, so early action is crucial. Check if your organization already has an account, as someone managing your sam.gov account can help with this.

Remember, the application deadline mentioned in the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) is specifically for State or Tribal governments. Most states set an earlier deadline for sub-applications, so make sure to confirm this date with your SHMO.

Developing a Successful Application:

When preparing your application, it’s important to remember that meeting the Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) requirements is just the starting point. Your project is up against numerous others nationwide, so it’s essential to present an application that stands out and scores high in comparison. Here are a few considerations for your application:

1. The Technical Criteria in FEMA’s BRIC program are straightforward – you either earn the points or you don’t. Evaluate your project and community to estimate the number of points you can potentially secure in the technical criteria.

2. The Qualitative Criteria are assessed based on how thoroughly they are addressed in your application. Utilize FEMA’s program support materials to help you craft responses that meet these criteria effectively. Aim to use the qualitative criteria to compensate for any points you might be missing in the technical criteria.

3. FEMA requires projects to be cost effective using FEMA’s Benefit Cost Analysis Toolkit v 6.0. In a significant change for both programs in FY23, the discount rate has been reduced to 3% from the previous 7%. Moreover, for projects under $1 million, FEMA now permits a qualitative benefit-cost narrative. If you find the FEMA BCA challenging to navigate, don’t hesitate to contact the BCA helpline for assistance at bchelpline@fema.gov. It’s important to make sure that all the information in your BCA is supported by proper documentation, including any hydrologic and hydraulic (H&H) reports and modeling.

We are here to help.

As we close this overview, I want to emphasize the importance of each step in applying for FEMA’s BRIC and FMA funding. Remember, the distinction between BRIC and FMA, each program caters to specific types of projects. Your initial contact with your State Hazard Mitigation Officer (SHMO) sets the stage for the process. Meeting deadlines, effectively using FEMA Go, and understanding the technical and qualitative criteria are all key components of a strong application.

The recent changes in the Benefit Cost Analysis (BCA) process, including the lowered discount rate and the allowance for a qualitative narrative for smaller projects, are designed to streamline the process. However, should you encounter any difficulties, FEMA’s helpline is a valuable resource.

Your efforts in navigating these complex processes demonstrate your commitment to bettering your community. We hope this guidance serves as a solid foundation for your application and ultimately, the successful implementation of your project. Good luck, and remember, we are here to support you every step of the way.

image description

Annie Vest is our Mitigation and Disaster Planning Lead based in Tulsa.