The Basics of Federal Grants, Assistance and Benefits

USDA Offers Loans and Grants to Repair Rural Homes. Lori Greig/Getty Images

At any time, the U.S. government offers over 1,400 programs offering discretionary assistance or benefits. Most people call these grants, but "grants" is far too general a term. In fact, there are very few, if any direct government grants available to individuals

Under the general category of "domestic assistance," are 15 types of assistance available including surplus equipment, training, guaranteed loans, and even some grants which help many people.

Unlike programs such as Social Security or Medicare from which funds are distributed automatically to qualifying citizens, discretionary programs require a formal application, consideration, and approval. The art and science of applying for these programs is popularly known as "grantsmanship" and it is no day at the beach. 

Who Gets the Help?

All federal benefit programs are listed in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance, the CFDA. The benefits listed in the CFDA are available to:

  • state and local governments;
  • federally-recognized Indian tribal governments;
  • U.S. territories and possessions;
  • domestic public, quasi-public, and private profit and nonprofit organizations and institutions;
  • specialized groups; and yes, even
  • individuals

Types of Assistance Offered

The following are the 15 types—7 financial and 8 non-financial—of federal assistance offered by the federal government:

  • Formula Grants - Allocations of money to States or their subdivisions in accordance with distribution formulas prescribed by law or administrative regulation, for activities of a continuing nature not confined to a specific project.
  • Project Grants - The funding, for fixed or known periods, of specific projects. Project grants can include fellowships, scholarships, research grants, training grants, traineeships, experimental and demonstration grants, evaluation grants, planning grants, technical assistance grants, survey grants, and construction grants.
  • Direct Payments for Specified Use - Financial assistance provided directly to individuals, private firms, and other private institutions to encourage or subsidize a particular activity by conditioning the receipt of the assistance on a particular performance by the recipient. This does not include solicited contracts for the procurement of goods and services for the Federal government.
  • Direct Payments with Unrestricted Use - Financial assistance provided directly to beneficiaries who satisfy federal eligibility requirements with no restrictions being imposed on the recipient as to how the money is spent. Included are payments under retirement, pension, and compensatory programs.
  • Direct Loans - Financial assistance provided through the lending of monies for a specific period of time, with a reasonable expectation of repayment. Such loans may or may not require the payment of interest.
  • Guaranteed/Insured Loans - Programs in which the government makes an arrangement to indemnify a lender against part or all of any defaults by those responsible for repayment of loans.
  • Insurance - Financial assistance provided to assure reimbursement for losses sustained under specified conditions. Coverage may be provided directly by the government or through private carriers and may or may not involve the payment of premiums.
  • Sale, Exchange, or Donation of Property and Goods - Programs which provide for the sale, exchange, or donation of federal real property, personal property, commodities, and other goods including land, buildings, equipment, food, and drugs. This does not include the loan of, use of, or access to federal facilities or property.
  • Use of Property, Facilities, and Equipment - Programs which provide for the loan of, use of, or access to federal facilities or property wherein the federally owned facilities or property do not remain in the possession of the recipient of the assistance.
  • Provision of Specialized Services - Programs which provide federal personnel directly to perform certain tasks for the benefit of communities or individuals. These services may be performed in conjunction with nonfederal personnel, but they involve more than consultation, advice, or counseling.
  • Advisory Services and Counseling - Programs which provide federal specialists to consult, advise, or counsel communities or individuals to include conferences, workshops, or personal contacts. This may involve the use of published information, but only in a secondary capacity.
  • Dissemination of Technical Information - Programs which provide for the publication and distribution of information or data of a specialized or technical nature frequently through clearinghouses or libraries. This does not include conventional public information services designed for general public consumption.
  • Training - Programs which provide instructional activities conducted directly by a federal agency for individuals not employed by the Federal government.
  • Investigation of Complaints - Federal administrative agency activities that are initiated in response to requests, either formal or informal, to examine or investigate claims of violations of federal statutes, policies, or procedure. The origination of such claims must come from outside the federal government.
  • Federal Employment - Programs which reflect the government-wide responsibilities of the Office of Personnel Management in the recruitment and hiring of federal civilian agency personnel.
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Your Citation
Longley, Robert. "The Basics of Federal Grants, Assistance and Benefits." ThoughtCo, Dec. 2, 2016, Longley, Robert. (2016, December 2). The Basics of Federal Grants, Assistance and Benefits. Retrieved from Longley, Robert. "The Basics of Federal Grants, Assistance and Benefits." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 21, 2017).