What you (yes, you!) need to know about congressional earmarks
Meeker is the director of special initiatives for the Popvox Foundation. Harris is a member of the organization’s board.
With the passage of the fiscal 2023 omnibus appropriations bill and a wave of congressional press releases touting new spending in lawmakers’ states and districts, it is official: “Earmarks” are back.
The decades-old practice of members of Congress securing money for local projects has been reformed and reinstated after a 10-year ban. The new system limits recipients of “congressionally directed spending” to nonprofits or government entities and the maximum amount available to less than 1 percent of discretionary spending. New requirements prohibit any connection with lawmakers or their families, prioritize community input, and mandate disclosure and transparency at every step — as recommended by bipartisan organizations, congressional experts and the House Select Committee on Modernization.
The new program was announced last year as the appropriations process began, giving congressional offices a very short window to share information about the opportunity to apply for funding and set up their systems for receiving inquiries. Despite this, 332 House members and 64 senators submitted requests in the fiscal 2023 cycle, and the vast majority made it into the final bill.
With the bipartisan success of the first year of “Earmarks 2.0” and longer lead time for getting the word out, it is likely that many more eligible organizations and governments will submit projects for consideration this year. Is earmarked funding right for your organization? The information below will help you decide. And if you choose to submit, the three-step “D-I-Y Earmarks” guide from Popvox Foundation and the Bipartisan Policy Center will help you design your application and outreach for success.
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About the new earmarks:
- Limited: They are only available to nonprofits and government organizations.
- Targeted: They are awarded for specific projects and locations, and only awarded for one fiscal year at a time.
- Transparent: Members must disclose their requests to the public and certify that neither they nor their immediate families have any financial stake in their chosen projects.
- Accountable: A selection of projects will be reviewed by the Government Accountability Office.
- Narrow availability: Funding is limited to specific areas of federal spending, including education, health care, economic development, conservation, agriculture, transportation, rural connectivity, law enforcement, STEM research, energy, tribal affairs, historical preservation and entrepreneur support.
If you decide to submit a project, keep three things in mind:
1. Don’t be intimidated.
Even if you have never applied for federal funding or reached out to your member of Congress, this is the perfect opportunity to start. This “D-I-Y Earmarks” guide and other resources from Popvox Foundation and the Bipartisan Policy Center will walk you through what to expect.
2. Do your homework.
Congressional offices receive many applications and not every worthy project will receive funding. Familiarizing yourself with your lawmaker’s priorities can be a good way to figure out how to “pitch” your project.
3. Approach the process for long-term success.
Applying for earmarked funding is a great way to build or strengthen relationships with your local members of Congress, even if the project is not funded. The process will draw attention to the issue, raise awareness of your organization’s work, and give you practice navigating federal funding requirements. Keeping these long-term goals in mind will help you get the most out of participating in this process.