Grant Selection and Performance Task Force

PRESENT: Rob Meinders, Becky Hayes-Boober, Ed Barrett, Maryalice Crofton

The members convened at 8:30 am using the virtual meeting technology.

Discussion items:
- Carried from last meeting: Review major tasks for 2023 from Commission workplan. 
Grants has five tasks assigned to complete over the next year. One seems to have come to Grants because no other task force deals with issues impacting AmeriCorps programs. In this case, the task relates to recruitment which impacts enrollment. It seems to be more of a staff role. 

As other tasks were discussed, two were identified as work to tackle in the summer: assessing further changes in grant making and developing a continuum framework for grant options. The grant process changes developed last year have not been fully tested due to only one type of competition taking place. There will be better information after this formula round. It also was noted that only the formula can be modified because the competitive grants are entered into a competition that would not recognize any changes in content or submission format. 

The first two tasks to address will be connecting the board members to grantees and recruiting public members to the task force in order to broaden/diversify perspectives. The Commission has had a board member Ambassador program in the past. Maryalice will search for those materials so members can discuss applicability to current goals. A suggestion to assess the current profile of this task force was endorsed by all. Becky will reach out to another grantmaking organization for a copy of an assessment they have used.

All acknowledged these projects will be woven into grant selection and may not be neatly completed before that intense work begins.

- Continue consideration of whether minimum living allowance should be tiered. 
Discussion started with the reminder that any tier would mean the cost of program-provided housing and food would be factored in as part of the living allowance and only the difference between those costs and the full living allowance paid to the member. This discussion focuses only on the minimum allowance which is the starting point in a range. The federal AmeriCorps agency sets the maximum. In the 2023 year (the grants being considered now for start in summer 23), the maximum for 1700 hours is $35,200. Any member expenses not covered by the Cost-per-MSY set by federal AmeriCorps must be covered by local resources.

The task force is approaching the current discussion from an AmeriCorps member perspective, not the program operation view. Current Volunteer Maine policy determines the minimum living allowance for Maine members by 
multiplying the hours served full-time by state minimum wage. Staff use the minimum wage at the time the Competitive Request for Proposals is issued and apply it to all AmeriCorps in that year’s competition cycle. 

New and continuation applications submitted in the current cycle will operate in the August 2023 to July 2024 program year. This means the calculation will be one year behind state minimum wage which changes each January 1. That makes the emphasis on minimum all the more important.

Knowing the cost of health insurances is covered by the program, the members looked at the living costs for members and used a 1700 hour position as the basis for discussion. If 1700 hours are served in 11 months, the monthly living allowance works out to $1,961 gross and approximately $1,516 net after FICA and income withholding. Using USDA and other monthly expense calculators, expenses for food, rent, heat/utilities for one person on a frugal budget work out to $1,859 per month which is why so many members need SNAP benefits (currently $281 for single person at this income level).

The task force members concluded there should not be a tiered minimum living allowance  and no modification to current policy will be suggested. It was noted that the federal AmeriCorps agency recently issued a policy clarifying that additional benefits do not have to be treated as part of the living allowance.

- Clarification: does Commission policy apply to competitive and formula? 
Task force members were unanimous in saying yes. Proposals that do not conform to the policy will not be supported. Request for Proposal text will be updated to make this clear.

- Formula review process discussion. 
Changes previously made include adding a recorded interview to the tech review and aligning narrative content with the CFR so only those items are requested. Because most grants are now fixed amount and do not have detailed budgets, applicants will be asked to list the slot types, intensity of service (full-time or part-time), and living allowance amount if one will be paid. This text will be requested in the budget narrative. The checklist assessing volunteer management practices will be returned as an addendum.

- Federal AmeriCorps information sent to states about AmeriCorps formula competition
Task force members received an update on funds available for the formula competition. There are not carry forward funds as predicted because grantees spent more funds than they reported in the unexpended forms. The good news is there is a $200,000+ increase in the formula allotment to Maine. It is still a tight scenario but will allow for one or two new programs.

- Proposed schedule for "spring" grant competitions and continuation reviews. 
The timeline for spring competitions and continuations was reviewed. There will be four reviews underway simultaneously: Planning grants, Standard operating, Rural, and continuations. Two Commissioners have volunteered to assist. More are needed for tech review.

There being no other discussion items, the members dispersed at 9:21 am.