Michigan’s smaller local governments need help accessing state and federal grants

October 11, 2023
Written By:
Daniel Rivkin, Ford School of Public Policy
City Hall sign. Image credit: iStock
Close-up of city hall sign

As unprecedented state and federal funding opportunities have emerged over the past 18 months with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, Michigan local government leaders have expressed concerns about getting access to those opportunities.

The spring 2023 wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey asked local government officials to assess their jurisdiction’s capacity for pursuing external grant funding from state and federal governments. A new report finds most Michigan local government leaders believe their jurisdiction has at least some ability to pursue future state or federal grant funding, but their confidence is generally subdued: Only 15% of townships and 14% of villages are very confident in their ability to monitor future opportunities.

“Many, but not all, of the bigger local units in Michigan—the larger city, township and county governments—have the staffing and experience that allows them to monitor funding opportunities, pursue them, and then report and audit how the money is spent,” said Debra Horner, the survey’s senior program manager. “It is out of balance with what smaller places are able to do.”

The survey sought comments from government officials about how they approach these types of funding activities.

Tom Ivacko, executive director of the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy, or CLOSUP, said the responses called for more help and resources for local governments as well as for better communication about new opportunities, noting that some 450 officials provided specific comments.

“Around a quarter of the comments mention a need for and/or a current lack of expertise in applying for grants. … Another quarter cite the need for better communication about available grants,” according to the report. “Other types of comments mentioned challenges with staffing, costs and eligibility for grants.”

One respondent said the application process holds small townships back and described navigating federal systems as “very intimidating.”

Another noted being an official in a village of fewer than 500 residents and not having a professional grant writer is “a large liability.” State officials, the respondent said, should be reaching out to smaller municipalities and providing appropriate resources.

One local official suggested developing a consolidated list—in one specific location—of all active state and federal grants. Many agencies share this information separately.

CLOSUP has conducted the survey of all 1,856 general purpose local governments in Michigan since 2009. The program is a partnership between the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy and local government associations.

The spring 2023 wave was conducted Feb. 6-April 17. Respondents include village, township, city and county officials from 1,307 jurisdictions across the state, resulting in a 70% response rate by unit.