Federal Earmarks Process — How to Win Funding for Local Park Initiatives

By Kyle Simpson | Posted on March 5, 2024

Park web

As Congress wraps up its long-delayed negotiations on the appropriations process for the federal fiscal year (FY) 2024 in early March, they will very quickly pivot to kicking off the FY 2025 appropriations process.

Your NRPA Public Policy and Advocacy team is here to help you make sense of it all. Whether you submitted a request for funding last year or you’re reading about this opportunity for the first time, here’s all the information you’ll need to successfully submit a project request with your congressional representatives.

An important note — at the time of this writing, the FY 2025 process’ official guidance from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and deadlines to submit requests to many members of Congress have not yet been released. This is due to the unusual nature of the FY 2024 appropriations process running past its initial deadline for so many months. NRPA will provide an updated version of this blog post once full information about Congress’ process for FY 2025 is available.

What Is an Earmark?

An “earmark” — known formally as “Community Project Funding” in the House and “Congressionally Directed Spending” in the Senate — directs federal funding to a specific project in a congressional member’s district. Earmarks allow Congress to allocate funding for specific projects or programs without having to go through the standard appropriations process.

Historically, earmarks have been used to advance priority spending projects requested by members of Congress — a tool to encourage compromise and negotiation.

Past Park-Related Appropriations Earmarks

The FY 2023 appropriations law funded several local park and recreation earmark requests, and the final FY 2024 law likely will as well. The most notable earmark accounts and some examples of projects led by park departments and other related stakeholders that received funding are laid out below.

In addition to these project examples, a detailed description of each of the earmark accounts and the types of projects that are eligible can be found here.

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

  • Community Development Fund: $750,000 to the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation for the renovation of Charles White Park
  • Community Development Fund: $4 million to the Fox Valley Park District for a bicycle and pedestrian bridge in Lippold Park in Crystal Lake, Illinois

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

  • Clean Water State Revolving Fund: $1 million to the City of Melrose, Massachusetts, for a stormwater management and resiliency project in Ell Pond Park
  • Clean Water State Revolving Fund: $1 million to the City of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, for the implementation of the Ash Park Master Plan

Department of Transportation (DOT)

  • Highway Infrastructure Grants: $2.5 million to the City of Baltimore to design and construct the Northern segment of the Baltimore Greenway Trails Network
  • Highway Infrastructure Grants: $4.9 million to Dakota County, Minnesota, to construct the Veterans Memorial Greenway

Department of Agriculture (USDA)

  • Rural Housing Service: $1.7 million to the City of Castroville, Texas, for a park and recreation community building

Getting Involved for FY 2025

A successful earmark request can add valuable funds to “shovel-ready” projects that are already underway or are in the late planning stages. While earmarks generally follow the same eligibility requirements for the existing federal programs they move through, in most cases, they are delivered as 100 percent grants, without the burdensome cost-matching requirements typically attached to federal funding. A funding amount per earmark allowed is typically determined by the chair and ranking member of the appropriations committee and will be announced at a later date.

If you have projects in your community that would be a good fit, NRPA recommends contacting your representative and your senators as soon as possible to familiarize them with your proposal(s). The best way to do this is:

  1. Call the main office phone number of the representative(s) and senators for the community your project will benefit.
  2. Tell the person who answers that you are interested in sending in an earmark request for a park project in FY 2024 appropriations.
  3. Ask if the office’s form for earmark requests is available yet and how to access it.
  4. Ask for the name of the staffer in their office who will be working on this type of earmark request and get their contact information so you can reach out to set a preliminary meeting about your topic. Ideally, this meeting will take place before you submit your request form so that when they receive the form, they are already familiar with the value your project will bring to the community.

To increase the likelihood of your project getting accepted, we recommend that you coordinate with as many stakeholders in your district as possible to demonstrate the broad base of constituent support behind your project. Keep in mind that congressional members are looking to make the greatest impact with these funding requests, and projects with wide-ranging benefits are most likely to be selected.

Each member has their own process for reviewing and approving proposals, so make sure you are in regular contact with their offices in your district and their staff. As each member can only submit up to 15 proposals for consideration, be strategic about which elected officials you work with (you have two senators and — depending on the size and scope of your project — one or more representatives).  

Official deadlines and request forms for House and Senate offices are not yet available, but once they are made available, we anticipate that submission deadlines will generally fall within late March or early April. Given the quick turnaround of this work, preliminary conversations with staff for your representatives should start as soon as possible.

NRPA will provide an update as more concrete information about deadlines becomes available.

Kyle Simpson (he/him) is NRPA’s director of government affairs.