The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) defines six main recipient categories. All of them apply to non-federal organizations that are physically located within America or its territories/possessions.
It may surprise you that “non-federal” doesn't mean “non-government”. Federal refers only to those branches of the government which operate nationally. Non-federal government agencies in fact compose a third of the recipient categories.
States vary in regard to the number and types of government agencies they have. You can typically find an extensive list of state government agencies by going to the state's website (be sure the url ends ”.gov” to know you are on an official state site).
Here are the major categories:
State Governments This one should be obvious: any of the fifty states including Washington, D.C. and those specific agencies of these governments. Colleges, universities, and hospitals are exempted from this category.
Local Governments Excluding State and Federal governments, think of this as all other governments or government-like bodies. Clearly included would be counties, cities, and towns; mostly local governing bodies. This category also includes public school districts, parishes and agencies of the local government.
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Update July 2019
While there are many very broad categories of grant recipients there are also some huge formula grants that trickle down ti local groups and organizations. For example, the Office of Justice - part of the Department of Justice - manages the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program, also known as JAG. These are formula grants which get distributed to all 50 states plus Puerto Rico and other territories and Indian tribes that are officially recognized by the U.S. Government. These organizations then determine how to distribute funds to go to entities that support improvements in law enforcement. the court system, Corrections, drug treatment, mental health programs and more. Once funds are received at this level they can then be awarded to local organizations to fill out these functions.
News December 2018 The overall categories of federal grant recipients do not change much if any over time. However, specific Departments within the federal system will have theyr own target grant recipients and these may in fact change periodically. You can go to any of the departments’ web sites to get more detailed information about what grants they offer and to whom they go. For example, the Deparment of Justice site includes a guide to its grant making activities including how they are managed, what costs are allowed, and what reports are required. They also provide an overview of their main grant-making entities, including the Office of Justice Programs, Activities managed by the Office on Violence Against Women, and another Office that focuses on Community Policing Services.
May 2018 Update Well it looks like yet another government website appears to have bitten the dust. We have been unable to access the Federal Grants Recipients Categories website , though all the information in this article is still accurate. You can find out more in the grants.gov website by selecting the “Eligibility” category. Currently those eligible – widely defined – include organizations that are categorized as Government, Educational, Public Housing, Nonprofits, Some For-profit orgs that are not small businesses, and Small Businesses. There are also some grants for foreign applicants but it varies a lot by agency.
Territories and Possessions Did you know that the U.S. owns certain areas without formally making them states? These areas (and this category) extends to American Samoa, Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, Guam, Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, and Commonwealths of Puerto Rico. Those these areas maintain there own governments and laws, the United States provides grants as if to state/local governments.
What are territories? Most people don’t understand them very well — if at all. The United states has had territories ever since it declared its independence from England. In fact, the states that were not part of the original thirteen were territories before they become states. There are four “Organized Territories” which means they have territory governments. These include Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam and Northern Marinas Islands. Their citizens are all U.S. citizens but they are not able to vote in federal elections. From our standpoint the important thing about these territories is that they are eligible to receive grants from the United States Government.
Indian Tribal Governments This is exactly what it sounds like. The U.S. provides grants to the governing body of an Indian tribe, band, or nation —as long as the Sec. of the Interior formally certifies it. The Bureau of Indian Affairs administers services and programs. Did you know that the U.S. government gives official recognition to over 500 Indian tribes in our contiguous 48 states plus Alaska? They are eligible to receive funds as well as services from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. These may come in the form of grants, contracts, or compacts. There is also a National Tribal Preservation Program that awards Tribal Heritage Grants for recognized tribes. There are more programs and educational resources available to these tribes and you can find out how to learn more about them in this guide to USA.gov.
Non-Profit Organizations and Institutions Remember before when we said that colleges, universities, and hospitals were excluded from the State Government category? Well here they are. This category includes those organizations and other semi-public and not-for-profit groups. As with the State Government category, there are exclusions, such as research and dev. centers funded by the federal government.
Sub-Recipients There are also “sub-recipient” categories. The main recipient is referred to as the “prime awardee” and it has to file reports through a specific federal system. The information includes things like expenses and evidence that funds are being used appropriately. Those agencies which receive “sub-grants” submit their information through the prime awardee. Ultimately all the reported information is shared on a public website.
Private Individuals This is just about everything else: seniors, verterans, refugees, businesses, scientists, artists, farmers, students, homeowners, etc. Examples of direct assistance from the government to people in this category are Katrina disaster relief, FAFSA loans and scholarships, and school vouchers (Section 8). These programs are often designed for specific groups of people. Restrictions apply because of the nature of the activity. For example, grants to administer road & bridge improvements are often given to State or Local governments because they are in charge of the roads. However, you can often expect these groups to contract the work out to others.
This is what most people seem to be looking for when they ask about grants: grants for individuals. Often this type of grant is confused with benefits and financial aid. As this section describes, grants or assistance that eventually get to individuals goes through an intermediate step. Just as money goes to the states for roads, it eventually goes to those who are hired to do the jobs involved. Likewise money goes to community agencies who know the local area, and they’re the ones who finally get the money to individuals in need. Check out the last section on this page about a list of all grant recipients to find out how to see what sorts of grant opportunities are designated to go straight to individuals.
Pass-Through Entities and Sub-Recipients This is the hardest category to fully describe. The Federal Government allows other groups to designate federal assistance to another recipient. In this way, these groups act as trusted middle-men that may specialize in a field which the government wants to sponsor. As an example, the State Attorney General's Office (AGO) may be designated funding for crime-prevention programs. The AGO will pass money given to it on to other groups/programs that work directly to prevent crime. The AGO is therefore said to “pass on” the federal assistance.
Another great example of “sub-recipients” is non-profits that work to improve communities through programs such as home-repair assistance. This is a huge need in the U.S. and the federal government cannot possibly administer such programs directly for individuals. But through grants provided to states and passed on to non-profits, these programs can change people's lives. Read more about such a program created by Project Home in Wisconsin in Grants for Home Repair.
Are all these recipients’ grant awards documented somewhere? They certainly are! And there are thousands and thousands of transactions that get tracked and even made public. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look and being able to specify what you are looking for. For example, on usaspending.gov you can see displays of all this data and learn more about where the information comes from, what types of awards are made (e.g. grants, contracts, etc), the sources of the information and more. Does it help you to know all this data? Probably not, but it is reassuring that it’s possible to access this information so we know where taxpayers’ dollars are spent…
See List of All Grant Recipients For a straightforward list of all the types of entities that the government considers potentially eligible for grants, simply take a look at grants.gov. This is the central database of all currently announced “funding opportunities” — also known as grants. When you search for grants, there is an Eligibility box in the left column that lets you choose what sorts of organization you want to see grants for. Examples include entities like independent school districts, Native American tribal governments (federally recognized or not federally recognized), individuals, small businesses and more. Some people are surprised to see that categories include nonprofits with 501©(3) classification as well as those without, private institutions of higher learning, and public and Indian housing authorities. There's even a category called “Unrestricted” – though that gets qualified with more details provided in the grant application package. See more information on grants.gov and how to use it.