WASHINGTON - U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro joined U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to announce a competition to designate a new round of Promise Zones. These Promise Zones are part of the President's plan to create a new pathway to the middle class by partnering with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, improve educational opportunities, and reduce violent crime.

Urban, rural, and tribal communities nationwide will be invited to put forward a plan to partner with local business and community leaders to make evidence-based investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity. In exchange, these designees will receive priority access to federal investments that further their strategic plans, federal staff on the ground to help them implement their goals, and five full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members to recruit and manage volunteers and strengthen the capacity of the Promise Zone initiatives.

"As a former mayor of an urban Promise Zone community, I have a unique appreciation for the talent, passion and the vision that local leaders offer when working to turn their communities around," said HUD Secretary Julián Castro. "Promise Zones are about giving folks who have been underserved for far too long the opportunity to build stronger neighborhoods and more prosperous lives. At HUD, we're honored to give other communities the opportunity to transform their futures so this work can continue across the country."

"The Promise Zones initiative allows us to work directly with local leaders and organizations to meet a community's specific needs," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "In the current Promise Zones, especially in rural and tribal areas, we are seeing how effective it can be when we work in a coordinated way to address economic and social challenges. We've seen economic recovery strategies like this create jobs and opportunity through USDA's community-based StrikeForce Initiative and Promise Zones build on this success."

"As a former mayor, I know the difference that can be made when federal agencies work together to cut through red tape and deliver strategic solutions that address a community's needs," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "The Department of Transportation is proud to work alongside other agencies to make sure communities not only offer good homes, thriving businesses and a clean environment, but an efficient transportation system so its people can enjoy them all, too."

Education Secretary Arne Duncan added, "At the heart of every strong community is a great school, but schools can't do it alone - it takes the whole community to help improve outcomes for students in school and in life. Promise Zones create real pathways to success for families in our most impoverished communities across the country by attracting private investment, increasing affordable housing, improving educational opportunities and assisting local leaders in cutting through red tape. I am excited to join our interagency partners in announcing this new opportunity for communities to become a Promise Zone."

Each Promise Zone selected will have demonstrated that local leaders, business leaders, state, tribal and local officials; faith-based and non-profit organizations; children and parents are collaborating effectively to ensure that hard work leads to a decent living for every American, in every community.

In 2009, after a generation of sometimes counterproductive and often contradictory federal engagement that was creating obstacles to greater shared prosperity, local communities across the country demanded a more effective and responsive federal government partner to create new pathways to the middle class. To meet this demand, the Obama Administration adopted a variety of unprecedented place-based efforts to promote economic opportunity and accelerate economic growth by explicitly connecting key federal programs that support such growth, such as education, housing, economic development, and infrastructure, with locally-devised strategies for broadly shared regional growth.

In January of this year, President Obama announced the first five Promise Zones: San Antonio, TX, Los Angeles, CA, Philadelphia, PA, Southeastern Kentucky Highlands and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. The work being done in these communities is already helping to move the needle in key areas. For example, graduation rates have reached 90 percent in the San Antonio Promise Zone; 2,000 kids in Los Angeles were able to find a summer job through a youth employment initiative; 900 unemployed people in Southeastern Kentucky have been connected to a job; and over 700 households and 50 businesses in remote southeast Oklahoma will soon have access to clean, safe drinking water for the first time. Today's announcement of a new Promise Zone competition will help bring similar success to high-poverty communities across the country.

Any community meeting the qualifying criteria can apply for a designation, regardless of whether it has a previous federal grant. HUD and USDA will designate at least 8 Promise Zones across urban, rural and tribal communities. The deadline for submitting Promise Zone applications is November 21, 2014.

HUD in close collaboration with USDA will convene three distinct webcasts for urban, rural, and tribal to discuss the second round of the Promise Zone Initiative with interested communities.

The Community Foundation of Broward County announced grants up to $25,000 for projects that address critical needs and providing opportunities to improve the quality of life for those in need in Broward County.
The Community Foundation of Broward has created the new Ignite! Innovation Grant Program. Through this program, the Foundation will award grants to organizations that "lead boldly, and challenge themselves to present innovative, unique projects that address Broward’s most pressing needs."
The Foundation mentions specifically:
•Represent unique ideas, methods, and approaches to serve the community;
•Use a collaborative approach to maximize impact;
•Address one of the eight focus areas outlined below
through pilot projects that have the potential for
future expansion and /or replication or through project
expansion for greater traction and impact
•Have S.M.A.R.T. outcomes (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, & time - sensitive)
Focus Areas:
Poverty to Prosperity
Cancer Patient Care
Youth Engagement
Going Green:
Health and Wellness
Aging with Dignity:
Justice for Animals:
Apply using PhilNet, the Foundation's website.

A lot of people go gaga over the whole concept of free federal grants. The moot point is, is it really free? If you were to read Jay M. Shafritz's book 'American Government and Politics', he defines what a grant is. A grant, he says, is a gift that has certain obligations for the grantee and expectations from the grantor. A grant is no one-way street as most people looking for grants would like to believe. A grant comes to you inbuilt with the word 'obligations'. And rightly so, wouldn't you say? Why on earth should someone give you a lot of money and then forget about it? A grant is not philanthropy pure and simple. It means you have a responsibility to fulfill certain obligations.

Why are free federal grants given? They are basically dispensed so that organizations that are involved in doing work that benefits the community have the money to carry out the work. For example, the projects could be programs that train displaced workers, or street paving projects or water conservation projects or anything for the good of the community or the society. Once a grant has been sanctioned, the organization has to make sure that their functioning has certain strict performance standards. There has to be detailed and transparent auditing and accounting and the auditing has to be done once a year at least.

The other thing about free federal grants is that every cent has got to be spent. If there is any money that is left over after the project is complete, it reverts to the Treasury. The deal is that every cent should be accounted for. The goals that are set out in the program when the grant is applied for must be followed exactly as they are specified. If there are any changes in the course of the period, they must go through government procedures and get an approval. Of course it goes without saying that time schedules must be adhered to and the project must be successfully completed.

What happens if the organization does not comply with the program goals? Then, it is likely that the 'grantee' or the one who gets the free federal grant will have to pay a penalty. What form do these penalties take? This is said to be non-compliance and the penalties could range from economic sanctions to maybe even a prison term if it is suspected and proved that there was intentional misuse or theft of the grant money.

Who do most of the free federal grants go to? Most of the beneficiaries of this grant money are universities, colleges, states, cities, federal agencies and research organizations. The application process is done by experts who are well-versed in this. Which is why individuals usually do not qualify for them. Most organizations have special staff or get expertise from outside to prepare the applications and to monitor and administer the grants. It takes a lot of expense and time to just apply for a free federal grant. It also involves a great deal of legwork and going to and fro till it is finally approved. With so many cutbacks on federal spending, the chances of the grant being approved could be slim. The truth is that free federal grants are no cakewalk. They come with a price tag attached. The organization that gets it has to be prepared to deliver and deliver well.