Grants aren't free money

October 6, 2013 

Want a roundabout in your town? There's a grant for that. Need to make repairs to your home? There's a grant for that, too.

The federal and state governments love creating grant programs. They may not be able to afford basic services, but they always have money to pass out for these specialty spending ideas.

We published articles about roundabouts and home repair grants in the past week, but there are thousands of other grant programs out there.

Roundabout funding is part of the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program. The federal government doles out $2.2 billion a year through this program.

It will pay 80 percent of the cost of an approved roundabout. With that high a level of cost sharing, it's no wonder that Belleville decided it needs a $1 million roundabout at Freeburg Avenue and South Belt East. Better air and traffic flow are great, but maybe not if the city had to cover the entire cost.

The Illinois Emergency Home Repair program offers $5 million to help more than 200 low-income homeowners around the state. This program has given Gov. Pat Quinn the chance to brag about how he's helping people -- but just a few. The 200 projects statewide will be a proverbial drop in the bucket to the need. The odds of getting a grant probably aren't a whole lot better than winning the lottery.

Programs like these require an incredible amount of time and energy on the potential recipients' part. Cities and individuals almost have to develop a system for working the grant programs if they're going to have a shot at getting their "fair share." The cost of collecting taxes and fees to redistribute the money is high, also.

Too bad governments won't stick to the basics. It would cost taxpayers less, and it might mean that when tax dollars are spent, it's not just because there's a grant for that.

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