It’s 1 AM and, 15 hours after I started my work day, I am finally settling into bed. Now, I’m not unaccustomed to long days at the office–in fact, given how much I love what I do, work doesn’t usually feel like work–but today was brutal. I am exhausted, drained, frustrated. And the source? A Federal grant! If you please, imagine this: at least 80 hours of work spread out between three employees (myself, Libby and Jake) to apply for $30,000 in funding. The instructions alone comprise 80 pages. 25 pages of narratives. Countless instances of the same question asked the same way in three different locations. Opaque and difficult to understand requirements that are often contradictory. And did I mention that all this was for $30,000?
Here’s the problem: When contractors seek contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, or when big banks receive bailout funds from the United States Treasury, there are all-too-often minimal requirements, minimal oversight and minimal follow-up. Big money, easy money. But when I seek a couple thousand dollars to provide free tax preparation to the poor, or when the poor seek food stamps, or when schools try to expand after school programs, they are put through the ringer.
Let me be clear: I have no problem whatsoever with being asked difficult and probing questions to evaluate the efficacy of a grant application. I get it. What frustrates me, what I find unjust, is the yawning chasm between what we ask of those serving the average person and what we ask of those in power. What I want is the same standard, broadly applied: you want taxpayer money? Prove your efficacy, whether you want money for tax preparation or reconstruction projects in Iraq. What I don’t want is us pitching pennies on the one hand and throwing away millions of dollars with the other.