It is completely normal for misunderstandings and confusion to occur whenever a new government policy or program is implemented. Often new rules and requirements get miscommunicated or information may be misunderstood. For the Promise Zones, how preference points and funding opportunities are managed has been one of the most confusing factors for the public and media.
The first Promise Zone designations were announced on January 9, 2014. Indianapolis’s Near Eastside was chosen to be one of the Promise Zones in the second round of applications and announced on April 28th, 2015. Despite what many people may assume about receiving the federal designation as a Promise Zone, no direct funding has been awarded to the IndyEast Promise Zone or anyone within it. Neither the John Boner Neighborhood Centers nor anyone working in the Promise Zone office has the power to award grants. Instead, one of the most helpful benefits of achieving the Promise Zone designation from the federal government is the ability for groups and organizations planning to implement projects in or related to the Promise Zone area to be given points on their grant application. These are called preference points and, through a short application process, a group or organization can apply for a letter of support from the Promise Zone convening organization. This letter of support indicates to federal programs that an application for funds should receive special consideration. In addition, throughout the year participating federal agencies will announce grant opportunities that include a preference for proposals from Promise Zone communities. The John Boner Neighborhood Centers, in consultation with the City of Indianapolis and other implementation partners, is responsible for certifying that the application for funding aligns with the goals, sub goals, and objectives of the IndyEast Promise Zone. The federal agencies that review the grant applications, not the John Boner Neighborhood Centers, determine how many preference points are awarded to each application.
Another factor related to preference points for the public and media to recognize when trying to understand how funding within the Promise Zone works is partnerships. In order for grant applications to look more practical and actionable, local groups are encouraged to partner for projects whenever possible. When organizations partner with each other, resources are often used more effectively and more can be accomplished.
Receiving the Promise Zone designation is an opportunity for Indy’s Near East neighborhoods to make a lot of progress in improving the lives of its residents and that is something to get excited about! But, it is also important to understand how the funding of projects is managed and granted. The designation does not equal automatic funds but it does offer keys to open doors.