USDA Regional Food Business Centers Frequently Asked Questions

The USDA Regional Food Business Centers will support a more resilient, diverse, and competitive food system.  These Regional Food Centers will support producers by providing localized assistance to access local and regional supply chains, including linking producers to wholesalers and distributors. They will provide technical assistance needed to access new markets, access to federal, state, and local resources, and will assist small- and mid-sized producers in overcoming barriers to market access, with a focus on underserved farmers, ranchers, and food businesses. 

  • 1. Question: Are there priority considerations for the USDA Regional Food Business Centers program?

    Answer: Yes, USDA intends to select at least one Regional Food Business Center that serves each of the following: Colonias (counties on the US/Mexico border); High need/limited resources areas of the Delta and the Southeast; and high need areas of Appalachia. AMS will also fund one national Tribal Food Business Center. See section 1.4 of the RFA for more on regions.

    Question added 9/29/2022

    2. Question: Do the funding priorities outlined in the RFA mean that four business centers are already assigned to specific areas? Has USDA determined the regions the Regional Business Centers will serve?

    Answer: No, the Regional Food Business Centers have not been chosen or assigned yet and regions have not been determined.  USDA has identified four High Priority Areas (Colonias; High need/limited resources areas of the Delta and the Southeast; high need areas of Appalachia; and a National Tribal Center), but organizations/partnerships that will serve those areas have not been selected. All applications will be reviewed and selected after the application deadline of November 22, 2022. We intend to select a minimum of six Regional Food Business Centers. See section 1.4 of the RFA for more on regions.

     

  • 1. Question: What is the preferred structure of the Partnership?

    Answer: Partnerships must meet the criteria outlined below, however outside of these criteria there is not a “preferred structure” for how a partnership is established or what type of eligible entities make up a partnership.

    A Partnership is an agreement among three or more eligible entities (as outlined in Section 3.1) representing at least two of the eligible entity types and must be physically based in the region that they are applying to serve (excluding the tribal center, which has nationwide reach). Each partnership will designate a lead applicant, also referred to as “the Applicant.”

    To demonstrate partnerships, the applicant must submit letters of commitment outlining the partnership. Within 45 days of award, the Applicant will provide USDA with a Memorandum of Understanding between the partners detailing how each partner will contribute to the Regional Food Business Center. Applications should include engagement from multiple sectors such as local, state, tribal, or regional governments, tribal-serving organizations, food policy councils, producers and/or producer organizations, universities, urban and rural food system stakeholders, philanthropy, and entities across the food value chain and supply chain, such as distributors, processors, food hubs, retailers, and underserved communities and agricultural businesses. See RFA Section 3.1 for more on eligible entities.

    2. Question: Does “Applicant” refer to every entity and partner included in the application or just the lead organization who applies on behalf of the partnership?

    Answer: “Applicant” refers to the primary/lead organization that submits the USDA Regional Food Business Centers application on behalf of the partnership and will be responsible for accepting and administering the agreement if one is awarded.

    Question added 9/29/2022

    3. Question: How can I get in touch with staff at AMS to talk about applying for a Regional Food Business Center cooperative agreement?

    Answer: Please email RegionalFoodCenters@usda.gov and a member of our team will respond to your email within 2 business days. AMS is also hosting Office Hours to take questions about the Regional Food Business Centers. Visit the Overview Page for Details

  • 1. Question: Who is considered eligible to apply for the USDA Regional Food Business Centers Program?

    Answer: Please see section 3.1 for more information on eligible entities.

    2. Question: If I have never administered a federal grant before, am I eligible to apply?

    Answer: Section 1.3.5 of the RFA states that the applicant must have demonstrated capacity and experience managing a high value and quantity of federal funds. If you have never administered federal funds, you might be better suited to serve as a partner, rather than the applicant and manager of funds.

    3. Question: Can we apply for a USDA Regional Food Business Centers Program cooperative agreement if our non-profit (501)(c)(3) status is still pending with the IRS?

    Answer: Yes. If an award is offered, the applicant would need to verify their (501)(c)(3) status to receive the USDA Regional Food Business Centers award.

    4. Question: Is it correct that the direct recipient of the grant needs to be US domestic, but that the partner(s) don’t necessarily have to be?

    Answer: Per section 3.1 of the RFA, all applicants and the eligible entities that make up the partnership must have a physical presence within, and have a history of serving, the region for which they are applying to serve as a Regional Food Business Center, and must be domestic entities owned and operated within the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands or Indian tribal lands in the geographic regions of the United States.

    5. Question: Does an applicant or identified partner need to have existed for a minimum amount of time to qualify?

    Answer: No. However, partnerships should consider the financial management and reporting requirements for a federal award when deciding which entity should be the primary/lead applicant for a USDA Regional Food Business Centers award.

    6. Question: Does the Tribal Center lead applicant need to be a national, Tribal/Native run organization?

    Answer: As described in section 1.4 of the RFA, the Tribal Food Business Center must include an eligible applicant that is a tribal or Native run organization that primarily serves Native American and tribal communities, and that has a documented history of successfully working with tribal communities in this space, and it must demonstrate a collaboration across a nation-wide network of partners.

    7. Question: Can partners appear on multiple Regional Food Business Centers applications if the lead applicant is different?

    Answer: Yes. A partner under one partnership agreement may be included on multiple applications, and potentially receive funding from more than one award. However, such a member cannot be paid from both awards for the same work.

    8. Question: If an applicant, partner, or sub-awardee performs lobbying as part of its mission and programs, would this prevent them from being able to participate in a partnership?

    Answer: They can participate in the project, as long as no funds would be used for lobbying and the entity’s normal lobbying efforts aren’t related to the proposed project. Project funds cannot be used for lobbying activities, and project activities related to lobbying are not allowed.

    Questions added 9/29/2022

    9. Question: My organization does not have experience managing a program with 100+ subawards, are we ineligible?

    Answer: No, however your organization should be able to demonstrate the capacity to manage a large number of subawards. If you have never managed multiple subawards, you might be better suited to serve as partner, rather than as a lead applicant. Refer to the Accounting System Financial Capability Questionnaire as well as RFA section 5.1 (Fiscal Plan and Financial Controls) for more information.

    10. Question: Can an organization submit more than one application?

    Answer: No, an organization can only be the lead applicant on one application. However, an organization can appear on multiple Regional Food Business Center applications as partner as long as they are not paid from both agreements for the same work. 

  • 1. Question: Are matching funds required for the USDA Regional Food Business Centers Program?

    Answer: No, matching funds are not a requirement for the Regional Food Business Centers Program.

  • 1. Question: Can USDA Regional Food Business Centers funds be used to purchase land or buildings?

    Answer: No. It is unallowable to use grant funds for the acquisition of buildings, facilities, or land or to make additions, improvements, modifications, replacements, rearrangements, reinstallations, renovations or alterations to an existing building or facility (including site grading and improvement, and architecture fees).  Funds may be used to rent a building or facility for project-specific purposes, during the project’s period of performance.

    Note: AMS offers architectural design technical assistance at no cost. For more information, visit our facility design webpage

    2. Question: Can funds be used for construction?

    Answer: No, Regional Food Business Center funds may not be used for construction and property acquisition, per uniform guidance on federal financial assistance. All AMS awards are subject to the terms and conditions, cost principles, and other considerations described in the Program Specific (pdf) and AMS General Terms and Conditions (pdf)

    Note: AMS offers architectural design technical assistance at no cost. For more information, visit our facility design webpage.

    3. Question: Could you provide additional information on what qualifies as “special purchase equipment?”

    Answer: Section 4.6.1 of the RFA outlines the allowable costs related to special equipment.

    4. Question: What are the requirements and reporting timelines for administering a USDA Regional Food Business Centers cooperative agreement?

    Answer: The grantee’s administrative duties for the USDA Regional Food Business Centers Program (including reporting requirements) are explained in more detail in the AMS General Terms and Conditions (pdf)

    5. Question: Are administrative fees allowable under Regional Food Business Centers?

    Answer: The USDA Regional Food Business Centers Program allows for the inclusion of indirect costs (also known as Facility & Administration Fees) as part of the project budget. More information can be found in the Section 4.6.3 of the RFA.

    6. Question: Are the maximum award amounts inclusive of indirect/administrative costs?

    Answer: Yes.

    7. Question: Can USDA Regional Food Business Centers funds be used for micro-loans or be re-granted?

    Answer: Yes. The purpose of the capacity building piece of this agreement is that the recipient will provide financial assistance up to $100,000. Section 1.3 of the RFA provides more information on capacity building and subawards.

    8. Question: Can funds be used to purchase vehicles?

    Answer: Section 4.6.1 of the RFA outlines the allowable costs related to special equipment. Vehicles such as delivery vans are considered special equipment. See Program Specific Terms and Conditions (pdf) for more information on equipment.

    9. Question: How will purchased equipment be monitored?

    Answer: Purchased equipment will be monitored by AMS as required by 2 CFR § 200.313

    Questions added 9/29/2022

    10. Question: Are universities considered nonprofit institutions and held to the 10% indirect cost rate?

    Answer: Yes, universities are nonprofit institutions and will be held to 10% of modified total direct costs (MTDC) for indirect costs as required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and outlined in Section 4.6.3of the RFA. 

    11. Question: Can operational and financial support staff be written into the budget as direct costs?

    Answer: Yes, administrative and clerical staff are normally treated as indirect costs, however, these costs can be direct costs if the conditions outlined in 2 CFR 200.413(c) are met. 

    12. Question: Will advance payments be available?

    Answer: Yes, advance payments will be negotiated in accordance with the AMS Grants Division Terms and Conditions (pdf)

     

  • 1. Question: Does the Project Narrative page limit exclude required documents such as key staff resumes?

    Answer: Yes. The page limit only applies to content entered on the Project Narrative template itself. Other required documents such as commitment letters and key staff resumes do not count towards this limit.

    2. Question: Can AMS staff review a draft of my application prior to submission?

    Answer: AMS cannot review draft applications before they are submitted through Grants.gov. However, if you have specific questions about allowable costs and activities, you are welcome to reach out to us via email at RegionalFoodCenters@usda.gov.

    3. Question: Can I submit my application by fax, email, postal mail, or hand delivery?

    Answer: No. AMS will not accept applications submitted by fax, paper, email, postal mail, or hand delivery. All applications must be submitted electronically through Grants.gov.

    4. Question: Would only the applicant staff go under Personnel, and all other Project Team partners go under Contractual?

    Answer: Yes. The applicant would list all personnel and fringe benefit costs for its project staff under those budget sections, and partner costs would go under Contractual.

    5. Question: Should application attachments be uploaded using the add attachment function in grants.gov or do some forms need to be attached in the Narrative itself?

    Answer: The Regional Food Business Centers Project Narrative form must be submitted as a PDF and attached to the Grants.gov application package using the “Project Narrative Attachment Form” on the application package. Other attachments must be attached to the Grants.gov application package using the “Add Attachments” button under Form SF-424 item #15.

    6. Question: Do we need resumes for partner organizations as well as key staff?

    Answer: Each person listed in the Key Staff table of the project narrative (under the Expertise and Partners section) must have a resume attached to the application package. Resumes for partner organizations that are not listed in the Key Staff table are not required to be submitted. 

  • 1. Question: May organizations with existing AMS grants participate in an application?

    Answer: Yes, organizations with current AMS grants may participate in an application as long as the work they propose to do with the Region Food Business Center is different than their grant project or builds on or continues but is not the same as their currently funded work.

  • 1. Question: What does AOR stand for?

    Answer: AOR is the Authorized Organization Representative, which is the person who has the authority to sign and submit grant applications on behalf of the company, organization, institution, or government. AOR's are authorized by their EBiz POC (E-Business Point of Contact) so they can submit applications on behalf of their organization.

    2. Question: How do you become or register to be an AOR?

    Answer:  You would first register as an applicant on Grants.gov. Once you have a DUNS/UEI and your organization has an active SAM account, your EBiz POC will receive an email notifying them that you have registered and need to be authorized.

    3. Question:  What is EIN?

    Answer:  The EIN is the Employer Identification Number. This number is assigned by the IRS.

    4. Question: How do I know if my application was submitted on time?

    Answer:  After you submit your application to Grants.gov, you (the AOR) will receive an automatic notification of receipt from the system that contains a Grants.gov tracking number and official date/time stamp of application submission. This notification ONLY indicates receipt by Grants.gov and does not indicate receipt by AMS. Grants.gov may also send you an error message if your application was not submitted correctly. If application submission passes Grants.gov validation, AOR will receive a second electronic acknowledgment of receipt. Once USDA-AMS has retrieved application from Grants.gov, AOR will receive a third email notification. Lastly, if AMS assigns its own agency tracking number/notes a fourth email is sent to AOR.

    5. Question:  How are attachments uploaded in Grants.gov?

    Answer:  The project narrative template must be attached to the “Project Narrative Attachment Form” on the application package. All other attachments must be attached to the Grants.gov application package using the “Add Attachments” button under Form SF-424 item #15. When uploading attachments, click the “Add Attachments” button (do NOT use the “paperclip” icon in Adobe Reader). If you use the “paperclip” icon in Adobe Reader, the attachments will not be received with the application package.

    6. Question:  Can we apply before having the Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) and SAM.gov registration?

    Answer:  No, you must first have your UEI number to register in SAM.gov. In order to apply as an organization, you must have an active SAM account.

    7. Question:  Do I have to register before I can see the requirements of the grant application?

    Answer:  No, you do not have to register in Grant.gov to view the opportunity and download it. However, you must be registered to apply.

    8. Question:  Is the EBiz POC someone in my organization or a federal employee?

    Answer:  The EBiz POC is a member of your organization and is often the person that oversees the business operations. The EBiz POC is the one that registers the organization in SAM. EBiz POC is responsible for affiliating and assigning roles to all applicants registered in Grants.gov on behalf of the organization.

    9. Question:  Can the EBiz POC and AOR be the same person?

    Answer:  Yes. In that case, you would still need two accounts/log-ins. One to serve in each capacity.

    10. Question:  Can an organization have multiple EBiz POC’s?

    Answer:  No, you can only have one EBiz POC but may have multiple AOR’s.

    11. Question:  How do I contact Grants.gov if there is an issue with my registration?

    Answer:  You may contact the Customer Contact center by either e-mail support@grants.gov or phone 1-800-518-4726. You can also use the Self Help link to find answers to common questions.

  • 1. Question:  If we already have a UEI, can we go straight to SAM.gov?

    Answer:  Yes. SAM registration can take up to 2 weeks, and often longer, to complete so register early. Check the SAM.gov website for additional login procedures.

    2. Question:  If I have already had a SAM.gov account, do I have to do anything else?

    Answer:  Yes, you must be sure that your SAM.gov account is up to date. If the account expired, you must renew your account before applying.

    3. Question:  Do I have to pay to activate a SAM.gov account?

    Answer:  No, registering and renewing a SAM.gov account is completely free. If you received notification on having to pay to renew your account beware that it is likely a SCAM and should be reported to the appropriated authorities.

    4. Question: How will duplicate submissions be handled?

    Answer: When an applicant submits duplicate applications before the application due date, AMS will accept the last validated application that is electronically submitted through Grants.gov as the final submission.

  • 1. Question: What is the difference between a grant and a cooperative agreement?

    Answer: Regional Food Business Centers will operate through a cooperative agreement with USDA. In a cooperative agreement, as defined by 2 CFR 200.24, the awarding agency is substantially involved in the development and progress of project activities. This is in comparison to a grant, as defined by 2 CFR 200.24, where the awarding agency provides oversight and monitoring, but is not directly involved in project development or implementation.  AMS anticipates being actively engaged in supporting the work of the Regional Food Business Centers.

    2. Question: Are for-profit businesses eligible entities to lead a Regional Food Business Center?

    Answer: No, as the RFA states, only Non-Federal Entities (NFE) as defined by 2 CFR 200.1 are eligible entities. NFE means a State, local government, Indian tribe, Institution of Higher Education (IHE), or nonprofit organization that carries out a Federal award as a recipient or subrecipient. The entities in the partnership may subaward or contract with private or public, for-profit or nonprofit entities to support the coordination, technical assistance, and capacity building services of the center.

    3. Question: Is the service area of a Regional Food Business Center limited only to contiguous areas?

    Answer: No, as RFA section 1.4 states, regions do not have to be geographically contiguous.  Section 1.4 of the RFA states, “applicants must include details describing why this region would benefit from a USDA Regional Food Center…Applicants must define priority areas that they will serve within their proposed region that would classify as high need, underserved communities that were particularly affected by the pandemic.” Applications from both contiguous and non-contiguous regions must provide justification for their region, which may include commonalities regarding demographics, growing regions, climate, etc. If there are multiple applications that cover the same area and could collectively serve a large and contiguous area, USDA may suggest that applicants collaborate to develop a more geographically comprehensive center.

    4. Question: Is it required that technical assistance providers have a physical presence in the Regional Food Business Center region?

    Answer: Yes, USDA's goal is to invest in building permanent development capacity in regions so the applicant must include Technical Assistance partners who have a history of serving the region and will maintain a physical presence in the region to which they are providing services. The Centers will also have the ability to contract with other organizations without a physical presence in the region for specific services including presenting at meetings or conducting specific trainings that have been tailored to regionally specific needs.

    5. Question: Is the lead applicant responsible for managing the business builder subawards?

    Answer: USDA has not prescribed one way for the applicant to manage the business builder subawards. The applicant is responsible for the financial integrity of the system and will work with USDA to develop a process for  funding decisions and how the subawards will be monitored. USDA will work with successful applicants on a system that ensures that region-specific needs are met while providing adequate federal oversight.