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Tips for First Nations on Submitting Funding Applications

First Nations in Ontario are used to submitting funding requests to Indigenous Services Canada (ISC). The First Nations Infrastructure Investment Plans (FNIIP) are submitted every year and managers cross their fingers that this might be the year funding shakes out.

Recently First Nations have been able to submit for funding programs with Infrastructure Canada and the Ministry of Infrastructure.  This has been an exciting change, as the First Nations are able to apply for a separate stream of funding for projects which are community priorities, however which ISC may not be in a position to support.  This also helps all parties involved;securing funding from other funding sources helps communities, and it also frees up ISC funds to allow other First Nation projects receive funding to go ahead.

In 2018 / 2019, we saw the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program roll out from the Ministry of Infrastructure, which will be providing funding up to 93.33% of a project’s cost.  There were three streams which were generally applicable to First Nations: The Community, Culture and Recreation Stream; the Green Stream; and the Rural & Northern Stream.  OFNTSC provided assistance to a number of First Nations in applying for these opportunities.

We understand that there will be a Phase 2 of the Green Stream for water / sewage / stormwater projects, which will be a significantly bigger amount, and which new plants and systems will be eligible for. With the current pandemic, we also remain hopeful that the government may provide more infrastructure funding as an economic stimulus. First Nations should do their best to be able to submit strong applications as these funding programs roll out.

Steps you can take when a Funding Program is Announced:

OFNTSC recommends Band Managers stay up to date with possible opportunities. Often these programs get announced via emails to the Chief.  Your technical advisors (Tribal Council and OFTNSC) are also often aware of opportunities. You can keep an eye on the Grants Ontario website which will detail all available government funding programs:  http://www.grants.gov.on.ca.

Get creative when looking for funding!

For example, Jordan’s Principle Funding is an option if your project increases service to children.  Some private companies such as banks provide grants for community projects.  When in doubt, reach out and contact the funding agency.

Once funding is announced, we recommend the following steps:

  • Read the available information carefully. This is to make sure that what you will be submitting for is eligible. For example, the Rural & Northern Stream provided funding for roads, however the roads being applied for had to be connected. This can also identify what items in the application form would be beyond your expertise, and where you may need help.
  • If you’re not sure if what you are submitting for is eligible, call the Program Officer to discuss. Often a chat with the Program Officer will provide helpful tips on filling out your applications. As they can get busy, we recommend doing this as soon as possible.
  • Make sure you have access to the Grants Ontario Portal to make your submission! Some First Nations offices have high turn-over, and the person with access for your community may have left with their passwords. If you are locked out, work with the Program Officer to set up access. Try and do this as soon as possible, as leaving this until the last minute will be a mess.
  • Work with your Technical Advisors (Tribal Council, OFNTSC) to set up a plan to submit the application! In some cases, the technical advisors will have staff and expertise to complete the application, in other cases such as applications for road repairs, more specialized knowledge might be required. Having a technical advisor or consultant help out can strongly boost your application. The person who will be evaluating the application will most likely be technical and you will be competing with municipalities, so having a person who “talks the talk” work on or review your application will help a lot.
  • Decide who will complete what aspects of the application. For example:
    • If you have a consultant doing related work underway or recently completed, (e.g. doing a water feasibility study and you’re submitting for a water plant upgrade), ask them for help. The Consultant will be aware of the status of the system, and be able to complete the application form quicker. Consultants will often do this type of work as “business development” without charging you. Be open with the consultants and clear if they are doing this work at no extra cost, or if they expect to be paid for the extra work.  Consultants need to inform you in advance if there is an additional cost.
    • Consider hiring a consultant, especially if you need a site visit and supporting report. The cost to hire an expert to provide a supporting report and assist with your application might be around $5,000, however this cost will pay off in spades if you are successful in getting multi-million dollar funding.
    • Putting together a cost estimate is often the most challenging component, which is where consultants can especially help. Most of these applications allow contingencies of up to 25%. We recommend you keep the contingencies high, as it provides some buffer;it can take upwards of a year to find out if you’re successful with your application, and the market can change a lot. Prices have been coming in high the past year or two. With the current pandemic, we really don’t know how the market will be in the next year or two…Will contractors be pricing low because they need work? Or higher because work will take longer with more social distancing? Or higher because there are more projects out there with stimulus infrastructure spending?
    • Figure out what supporting information you have out there that you can submit! Keep your reports together. If you had a report done five or ten years ago and you don’t have it anymore, try to track it down – ask the Consultant who did the report if they have a copy, or your Tribal Council, or ISC. Sometimes consultants can change names as they go through buy-outs.  Ask for your Annual Performance Inspection (APIs).  If it’s a road application, ask for the accident reports from the police.  If the application is for drinking water, ask your Environmental Health Officer (EHO) for the historical water quality data for your community.
    • We recommend submitting a supporting report outlining why your project should be funded. This can be as a letter or memo. Include pictures and whatever else will help illustrate why this item should be funded.
    • Wherever possible, tie your funding application in to Health and Safety reasons or Compliance Reasons (example: WSER Regulations for wastewater)! We need money to widen roads versus we need money to widen the road to make it a safer school unloading zone for our children, for example. We need money for signs versus we need money for signs to help emergency responders.  We need money to repair potholes versus we need money to repair potholes so paramedics can perform CPR in the ambulance. Health and Safety is always a driving factor in funding decisions.
  • Once completed, submit your application. With Grants Ontario, you will need to Validate your Application, which is a button on the top right corner of the screen, to make sure that all sections are filled out. Include all supporting information. Don’t leave it to the last minute!  If you have internet connectivity issues or trouble with the Grants Ontario website, OFNTSC may be able to assist, however please don’t count on this, especially the last day. The website is prone to issues and crashing, especially with many Municipalities and First Nations submitting large files all on the same day.

An important note: if you are successful in receiving government funds, the funding always goes to the First Nation, not the consultant or Technical Advisor.  Most funding will require selecting consultants through a fair and transparent process, ie not to sole sourcing a consultant. Not following such a process could put your funding in jeopardy.  If a consultant helped with your application or has done good work with your community, you may be more inclined to invite them to bid on projects or score them more favorably for community understanding section of a proposal evaluation, which is fine.  However, do not listen to anyone who claims that, because they assisted with the funding application, you need to hire them directly.  This is an unscrupulous way of doing business which is not in the best interest of your First Nation.

Once You’re Successful:

There will be some paperwork and signing required. The funding agent may require a Band Council Resolution  (BCR). Be sure to review the information carefully, as they may require specific items in your project. Example: there may be requirements to have competitive processes in place to hire people, and they may require signs be installed during construction.

A few helpful tips:

  • Decide who your Project Team will be. Who in the First Nation will be the Project Coordinator, responsible for coordinating this project and reporting to Chief and Council? What support will they be provided, via your Tribal Council / Technical Advisor? Many project failures come from not having clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
  • What would be a realistic target date to do the work? Most construction work would ideally start in spring, which means tendering around February, which means starting the design the year before. Work backwards to see what schedule you’re looking at. What restrictions do you have on timing? Do you need to worry about getting material up on the winter road? When must the project be done? How does this correlate with other works you might have going on – example if you have a big construction project with lots of trucks going in and out of the community, now may not be the best time to start on the construction of a roads project.
  • You’ll need to retain an engineer. Will the First Nation want to retain a Professional Project Manager, or can the Project Team complete the Terms of Reference and hire an Engineer directly? This decision might depend on how complicated the project is, how experienced the First Nation Coordinator is, and how much available time they have.
  • As most of the funding is for a portion (example 93.33%), we recommend submitting an MCA (Minor Capital Application) and including on your FNIIP to ISC for the remaining funds (example 6.67%), plus First Nation Administration / Disbursement. First Nation Administration / Disbursements are generally not eligible for funding through the Ministry of Infrastructure. Having ISC as part of the team can help by providing additional financial support through the MCA, and providing ISC the opportunity to review submissions will ensure that projects meet their requirements so that ISC can then provide continued Operation and Maintenance Formula Funding with less hassle.
  • The new Impact Assessment Act currently applies and will need to be followed – generally this is done in the design stage in consultation with your design consultant.
  • Start thinking about how you can target economic development in your First Nation… try to come up with a list of equipment the First Nation has which can be rented out to a contractor, and what rates? Are they in good condition? If not maybe it should be upgraded or purchased in anticipation of this work? Are there rooms to rent? Does the First Nation have resumes of people who can work on the job? Where can members be hired – flag people, caterers, cleaners, labourers? Is there any specialized training which can be provided to help members can be hired by the contractor? Maybe a job fair would be a good idea?

We hope that you enjoyed this blog and found some of the tips helpful. Remember, OFNTSC is here as a resource for your community. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out. And once your community is successful in receiving funding, you can work to make your community a better place for your residents to enjoy.  … and now the work starts.

Let us know in the comments below which project OFNTSC helped your First Nation receive funding for, or what projects you are currently hoping to get funded and we’ll see you in next month’s blog post!