Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) grant funds are provided to nonprofit organizations, tribes, colleges, and governmental organizations to recruit, train, and place disadvantaged, unemployed, and under-employed individuals living in areas affected by solid and hazardous waste in secure full-time, sustainable employment in the environmental field. The program is sponsored by EPA’s Office of Brownfields and Land Revitalization (OBLR). In recent years, other EPA offices have contributed additional funding for training in their program areas. These offices include:
- Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery (ORCR)
- Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation (OSRTI)
- Office of Communications, Partnerships, and Analysis (OCPA)
- Office of Wastewater Management (OWM)
- Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP)
- Office of Emergency Management (OEM)
Since the program was created in 1998, more than 14,600 individuals have completed training, with about 72 percent finding employment in the environmental field. Their average starting hourly wage has been approximately $14.32/hour. As of 2016, EPA has funded 256 job training grants totaling over $54 million with Requests for Proposals (RFP) issued every year since the start of the program. An RFP is usually issued in November with proposals due in January or February. Applicants are notified of funding in the spring allowing new grantees to begin work in the fall.
The EWDJT program has a well-defined grant review process where basic minimum eligibility requirements must be demonstrated before proposals are evaluated and prioritized for funding. Applicants must diligently follow the guidelines in the RFP. As part of the threshold review, proposals that fail to meet minimum eligibility requirements are returned and applicants are informed of their rejection within the first 15 days of submission. Proposals that meet threshold requirements proceed to the narrative proposal evaluation.
The narrative proposal consists of seven ranking criteria that include specific requests for information. The response to each question is graded and given a weighted score. The sum of ranking criteria scores provides an overall narrative proposal grade. Top ranked proposals are then reviewed with other factors and special situations described in the RFP to create a “short list” of proposals that are considered for funding.
For any given year, the number of proposals submitted and funded varies. In recent years, about 50–60 proposals have been submitted with 17–19 funded (one out of 3 or 4). Of those funded, about half were communities that had established EWDJT programs and about half were new to the program, some of which had been unfunded in previous years. There is no set rule regarding this split and there are no set limits on the number of grants awarded. Awards are only limited by the amount of funding EPA has available for the program. There is a $200,000 cap on each grant. It is important to note that special consideration is given to environmentally or economically distressed communities. Special considerations are requested in the RFP and included as part of the application review process. See EPA’s website for additional information about the EWDJT competition.
Proposals compete on a level playing field. Established programs, eligible for refunding, are not continued if their proposals or performance are not competitive. Sometimes excellent programs fail to be refunded because of an assumption that “good programs will be automatically refunded.” The reality is that proposals must demonstrate to reviewers the success and contribution of the program to the community. Continued funding is not automatic and must be earned with performance and an outstanding work plan.
Private sector organizations and consultants are not eligible for direct funding but may partner or contract with an eligible grantee. If an applicant has received funding in the previous year, they are not eligible in the current year’s competition and must wait until the next cycle. A complete list of grant awards is available at EPA’s website.
Determine the best program director and grant writer to write and edit the proposal. Experienced grant writers, familiar with workforce development and federal grants, have a distinct advantage over those who have never written an EPA grant proposal. Organizations with limited grant writing and training experience may want to consider partnering with organizations that can bring a history of training, grant writing, and administrative resources to the application process.
Grant proposals are best constructed when proposed project management, program staff, partners, and grant writers collaborate and exchange numerous drafts for review and revision. The program director needs to work closely with the grant writer as he or she will be responsible for delivering the commitments presented.
The EPA EWDJT program differs from many academic grants for the reasons below.
- The entire program needs to be well researched, planned, and presented in detail before the proposal is written.
- Partners, resources, employers, and governmental organizations need to be on board as part of the proposal writing process.
- Proposals require collaborations that take months—not weeks—to develop.
- Proposals require close collaboration between writers, program managers, and staff. They cannot be written in isolation.
- The EWDJT program requires supplemental or leveraged resources.
- Indirect costs are not allowable with additional limitations on many training activities.
- EWDJT grants are technically Cooperative Agreements where EPA provides guidance to organizations awarded federal assistance.