I wrote this on Facebook today and wanted to share it here too.
I know there’s way too much to focus on right now. Today alone there’s about a year’s worth of news to process. But I want to focus some attention on Trump’s infrastructure plan that was released earlier this week (i.e. a lifetime ago). There’s a lot to be troubled by in this plan, but what made me choke was the part about match funding for infrastructure projects.
Okay, this can be a dry topic. Five years ago, I would have skimmed right past. But then I spent a few years writing grant applications for infrastructure projects in small California and Texas towns. Oof, talk about a learning curve. Really worthy projects, though: funding for sidewalks in a residential neighborhood so kids wouldn’t have to walk to school in the street. Funding for a farmer’s market in an area with a serious food desert. Funding for wetland restoration projects in an urban area to help filter urban runoff (teeming with bacteria) from contaminating beaches and residential neighborhoods. A “universal playground” accessible to kids and adults who use wheelchairs. The kind of stuff that makes daily life for ordinary people better in a tangible, practical way.
Those grant applications were doozies. The entire reason I was asked on board to write them is because a big part of grantwriting is narrative: how to tell the story of why this community should get federal or state funding for this project. Every grant I wrote was competing against hundreds of other applications.
These projects were scored on their merits: what benefits they would bring to the community. Improved health, carbon emissions reductions, removal of access barriers, and so forth.
Most scoring rubrics included a small number of points awarded to projects that had additional funding sources–the “match.” This might mean, say, that the town seeking funding for sidewalks would say: the town can pay X amount and we need Y amount in federal (or state, depending on the program) funding to complete the project.
Usually, the points awarded for a match were a small percentage of the total points. A match might give your project an extra 5 points out of a hundred, say. And the reason for this is that typically, the communities most in need of infrastructure projects are those least able to afford them. A match helped your application, but wasn’t nearly as important as the practical benefits and efficiency of the project itself.
Okay, that’s a lot of backstory. Here’s what made me choke: In the Trump Administration’s proposed infrastructure plan, “The amount of non-federal funding supplied for a given project will count for 70% of its score, while “evidence supporting how the project will spur economic and social returns on investment” will be weighted at just 5%.”
WHAT. WHAT. WHAT.
SEVENTY PERCENT OF ITS SCORE?
I’m speechless. Or, well, maybe not since this post is so long no one’s going to make it to the bottom.
I just…that’s a disastrous tidbit of information.
I’m not the only one who sputtered over this revelation. From yesterday’s Guardian:
“In other words, projects will live or die based on the resources they can attract, rather than the number of people they would serve or how urgently they are needed.
“This system not only incentivizes projects that profit at the public’s expense, such as toll roads, but also increases the likelihood that federal dollars will flow to wealthy jurisdictions that need them the least. When priorities are determined by wealth and profitability, the disadvantaged are left behind. Under Trump’s plan, communities that most need critical infrastructure investments – low-income communities, often communities of color – will be left out.”
Infrastructure isn’t sexy, and right now news of this plan is understandably drowned out by bigger, more urgent happenings. But we need to keep an eye on this. I’ll be watching.