Making the Match: Finding Funding for Future Safe Routes to School Projects

Margo PedrosoWith the issuance of the new interim guidance for the new Transportation Alternatives program under MAP-21, we now know for sure that future Safe Routes to School projects no longer have the luxury of being 100 percent funded by federal transportation dollars. Now, project sponsors will need to find a way to put up 20 percent of the cost of a Safe Routes to School project as a match for federal funds.

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership wants to ensure that local advocates understand what’s allowed as a match, and we hope the information in this blog will help provide ideas for generating those funds.

How much is the match?  Federal law states that you must provide at least 20 percent of a project’s federally eligible costs as a match. So, if your project costs $100,000, Transportation Alternatives can provide no more than $80,000 in funding, and you must find $20,000 to cover the remainder of the costs. (This example assumes that all project costs are federally eligible – some costs, like project administration, may not be.)

Do states have any flexibility to lower the match requirements?  In the past, states have had flexibility in the Transportation Enhancements program to average the match across all projects, funding those in low-income communities at 100 percent while requiring a higher match from communities with the resources to provide it. However, these “innovative financing” provisions were removed by MAP-21. So now each project must have at least the 20 percent match from non-federal sources. Fourteen western states with significant amounts of federal or tribal lands are allowed to have a smaller match; for example, in Alaska, the match can be 90 percent federal dollars and 10 percent state/local funds. 

What types of funding can we use to make up the 20 percent match? There are several options for making up the match. State funds, local government funds and private donations are all eligible. Generally, federal dollars are not eligible, though the Community Development Block Grants program is an exception – those federal dollars have a special authorization to allow them to count as local funds when matching other federal dollars. If you can’t get your state to use state funds to match all Safe Routes to School projects, advocate for them to provide the match for projects serving lower-income schools and communities, as these will be the locations hardest pressed to secure the matching dollars.

Federal law also allows the value of “in-kind” contributions to count towards the match. This includes the value of donations of materials, equipment and services—but they must be items or services necessary to complete the project. However, each state is allowed to determine its own matching policies. Many states limit or disallow entirely in-kind donations, as it can be difficult to determine which types of in-kind donations are permissible for federal transportation projects and to document their value. We encourage advocates to work with their state DOTs to allow “in-kind” contributions for a match for Safe Routes to School funds.

The National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse has documented the matching policies for each state on the Transportation Enhancements program. While these profiles have not yet been updated for Transportation Alternatives, it can give you an idea of what types of matching funds your state has traditionally allowed. Simply go to the NTEC state profiles, select your state and then scroll down to the bottom of the profile and look at the typical local match and matching policies.

Where can I find funds for the match?  Every project, community and state has different options. Look into your state government programs – many states have state-generated transportation taxes that support capital improvement grant programs, commerce and tourism grants and more. Look to your local government – they may be able to contribute funding from bonds, a sales tax referendum or their own capital improvement budget.

You may be able to secure donations from your local Chamber of Commerce, hospital, banks, the PTA or foundations (particularly community foundations in your area). You could undertake a fundraising campaign to sell bricks, benches or bike racks engraved with a donor’s name to be placed at the school or along the new infrastructure. Please also take a look at two of our past webinars, "Show Me the Money" from October 4, 2012 and "Matching Funds under MAP-21" on February 7, 2013 plus our Annual meeting presentation—both of which highlighted creative local approaches to raising revenue to sustain Safe Routes to School.

If your state allows in-kind donations to count, see if your local government’s public works staff can donate the design, planning and engineering services.  Perhaps local business can donate materials needed to complete the project.

It is daunting to think about generating these funds, but Safe Routes to School advocates are a creative and dedicated bunch. Remember that we are working on behalf of the health and safety of children—which can be a powerful fundraising vehicle.