By Tony Gonzalez / The Tennessean
Tennessee's child and family programs receive huge shares of their
funding from the federal government, but the state still misses out on
some competitive grants, a recent study finds.
short-staffed, pressed for time or unable to drum up matching state
dollars, Tennessee's government grant writers encounter many hurdles to
pulling in more federal funds that could help families, according to the
report by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.
the state spent $3.9 billion in federal dollars on kids and families
last fiscal year, and more than $9 billion overall. The report did not
attempt to quantify the lost opportunities.
"The departments are
fairly aggressive about (grants) that meet their main mission, but
because we are a fairly lean government, we don't have additional
staffing and time to branch into other areas," said Linda O'Neal,
commission executive director. "There are opportunities that they see
from time to time that they think are good ideas but realize just aren't
The commission wants to examine how best to fund
programs and reduce waste, so the analysis captures spending on
everything from education and health care to arts and reading programs.
always this perception that there's this huge duplication of services
in government," O'Neal said. "Through this process, we have not been
able to identify substantial duplication."
The 48-page report
describes Tennessee as "heavily reliant" on federal funds, with more
than 90 percent of child spending built on federal dollars or state
matching dollars required for federal grants.
"We're very reliant on federal funds. All states are," O'Neal said. "We may be more reliant than some."
The Department of Education stands out in the report for
"aggressively and successfully" seeking Race to the Top money to pay for
reforms, and also for seeking other grants.
questions are difficult. The timeline is short. But we've generally had
success," said Erin O'Hara, Education Department assistant commissioner
of data and research. "If we choose not to apply for a grant, it's
because it does not fit with our overall strategic plan."
of grant writers across departments encounter difficulties, either
because they lack expertise, face tight deadlines or realize that grants
would not be able to be put to full use, they reported to the study's
The most common struggle starts with the General Assembly, where lawmakers can be slow to approve applications and spending.
the availability of federal funds does not mesh well with state
schedules," O'Neal said. "There are mechanisms for getting approval
outside the annual appropriations process, but they're somewhat
The study recommends creating a faster approval process for lawmakers.