Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to many of the most frequently asked questions about the Student Loan Empowerment (SLE) Project grant program, and the process for completing and submitting an application. If you have further questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the SLE Project
Who can apply for a SLE Project grant?
Nonprofit organizations may apply if they meet these requirements:
- Be a nonprofit organization that has demonstrated experience in providing financial literacy, higher education debt counseling or other services to the target population of individuals with higher education debt.
- Grant funding must be used for a program benefiting student loan borrowers who reside in California.
- The Applicant must be organized and operated exclusively for one or more of the purposes exempt from federal income taxes under the following sections of the Internal Revenue Code:
- Section 501(c)3 – charitable organizations, churches/religious entities, and private foundations
- Section 501(c)4 – social welfare organizations
- Section 501(c)5 – labor, agricultural, or horticultural organizations
- Section 501(c)6 – business leagues
- Section 501(c)7 – social clubs
- No part of the organization’s net earnings shall inure to the benefit of a private shareholder or individual.
- The Applicant must be in good standing with the Secretary of State of California and the state of the Applicant’s headquarters, if applicable.
How often are SLE Project grants awarded?
The Student Loan Empowerment Project is a one-time funding opportunity authorized in the 2022-23 State Budget. Grants will be awarded for a two-year period.
When and how many SLE Project grants will be awarded? What is expected to be the average grant size?
Up to $7.25 million dollars will be awarded through this program. Awards are expected to be announced in January 2024, with the projected distribution of funds between starting in February 2024.
There are two grant streams for the SLE Project. The maximum award for a two-year period for Stream 1 is $2 million and the maximum award for Stream 2 is $600,000. The number of grants will depend on the amount of funding awarded per grant.
Is there a plan for equal geographic distributions for the SLE Project grants? (i.e. grants for Northern CA, for Southern CA)?
Grantees receiving Stream 2 funding will be distributed to organizations throughout the state to ensure that Californians with student loans will have access to services either in-person, by phone, or online wherever they live.
Grantees receiving Stream 1 will support the network statewide and are not necessarily limited to a specific geographic area.
My organization has never provided assistance specifically for student borrowers, but student debt is a big concern for the people we serve. Are we eligible to apply for this funding?
Maybe. The challenges faced by people with student debt are immense, and this type of assistance is highly complex and constantly changing. The SLE Network is being formed to support organizations that have experience in supporting student borrowers as well as organizations that have a demonstrated capability to expand their current service offerings to include this focus. The network will provide training, and technical assistance and coordinate referrals to ensure all Service Partners provide quality support with managing their student loans.
Stream 1 and Stream 2
Why are there two streams of funding? Can I apply for both streams?
The SLE Project will operate as a coordinated network, using a supportive hub and spoke model of service provision. DFPI provides funding for organizations that will play specific roles within this SLE Project Network. Network Coordination grantees will play a supportive or coordinating role, while Service Partner grantees will provide direct services to student borrowers. Organizations may apply for and receive funding for one or both streams of funding.
We think our organization could do meet some – but not all - of the program requirements. Should we still apply?
Yes! The SLE Project is building a network to support Californian borrowers that will bring together the best organizational mix of skills, expertise and community connections to meet the state’s diverse needs. Funding will be awarded based on experience and willingness to learn and collaborate within a supportive network. We encourage you to apply and let us know what you do best. Stream 1 funding will be awarded to 1-3 organizations that represent the most effective approaches within the network coordination requirements up to $2 million in total. Stream 2 funding will take into consideration applicants’ experience, target populations and geographic focus.
Can I work on both Stream 1 and Stream 2 applications simultaneously?
Yes, you should start both applications and familiarize yourself with the questions. There are some areas sections that are the same for both streams, e.g. the Eligibility and Signature page. You will only need to gather the documents once, but you must upload them to both applications. We recommend completing your application in a Word document separate from the online application form to avoid the loss of data, as technical glitches are always a possibility, especially when working with unfamiliar technology. Keep in mind any crossover in timelines, staffing, or other resources between the two applications, and point out these in your applications.
What are the expectations on marketing and outreach for Stream 1 and Stream 2?
Marketing and Outreach is a shared responsibility across the entire SLE Network.
DFPI will work in coordination with the SLE Network Coordination grantee(s) (Stream 1A) to develop branded assets and messaging. The Network Coordination grantee(s) is responsible for developing and maintaining an externally facing website and coordinating ongoing marketing and outreach activities statewide with service partner grantees.
Service partners (Stream 2) will implement localized marketing and outreach efforts that leverage their connections to the target populations they serve. These partners will have access to sample messaging, logos, and social media posts to promote the program within their target population.
What are the evaluation criteria for the proposals?
The Student Loan Empowerment Project will work as a supportive network, with organizations playing various roles within that network to ensure consistent and timely advice for student borrowers across the state. In general, the evaluation will take into consideration an organization’s capacity to deliver the project, experience and level of expertise, capacity for learning and collaboration within the network, connections with the target population, a solid budget, and the ability to track and measure outcomes.
What kind of borrowers and loans can be included in this program?
SLE Project funding can be used to assist any Californian borrower with higher education debt, regardless of immigration status. This includes parents who have incurred debt on behalf of a student. Service partners may assist individuals with both federal and private student loans.
Can my proposed financial education and counseling program be web-based?
Yes. Your plan for providing web-based services should clearly articulate how this format helps you to reach your intended audience. Remember that funds used for any services must serve participants in California.
What are the technical requirements for data collected through the network?
Grantees are expected to have processes and systems in place to protect the privacy of individuals served through the network, and secure exchange and management of data, including personally identifiable information. The Stream 1A Network Coordinator(s) is responsible for developing and maintaining IT solutions that protect the data.
What is the maximum grant amount I can apply for?
If you are applying for Stream 1, the maximum grant that can be requested is $2 million. There are two roles (or modules) that will be funded under this stream: Service Coordination and Training, and Quality Assurance and Technical Assistance. A maximum of $2 million may be divided among more than one applicant to fulfill these roles.
If you are applying for Stream 2, the maximum grant amount is $600,000. Applicants may apply for either or both modules, General Support for Borrowers or Specialized Case Support.
Does my application require a board resolution to apply?
No. The application requires a signature from the Executive Officer and the Board Chair. An optional letter from the board should be uploaded if the organization’s Articles of Incorporation do not clearly state that no part of the net earnings of the Applicant shall inure to the benefit of a private shareholder or individual.
Does each grantee have to report how grant monies are used?
Yes. Grantees must submit to the DFPI an interim and final report documenting:
- The specific uses to which grant funds were allocated,
- The number of individuals aided through the use of the funds,
- Quantitative results from grant funding,
- Any other requested information.
The report must be submitted in a form and by a date acceptable to the Commissioner of the DFPI. In addition, grantees will need to monitor and track data and outcomes as part of a network-wide evaluation plan.
How many individuals are Service Partners expected to be served with this funding?
It depends. Each organization has different skills and capabilities, areas of focus, as well as unique populations that it serves. General financial education counseling may require different staff expertise and capacity than highly complex cases, such as bankruptcy or wage garnishments. Your application should estimate the number of individuals that your organization could reasonably expect to serve with the funding requested. Adjustments to your estimates may be made in your final scope of work to reflect available funds and diverse network needs.
What are considered administrative costs?
Administrative costs may include but are not limited to, costs of workforce overhead, human resources, accounting, finance, business and facility operations, and information technology.
Staff hired to implement your project are considered a direct cost and should not be part of the (15%) administrative fees.
Can insurance be included in the proposed program budget?
Insurance that is for business operations or professional services (e.g. General Liability, Directors and Officers, Legal Malpractice) is not an eligible expense.
Health insurance (provided to employees as part of a fringe benefits package) is an eligible expense.
Can grant funding be used for participant incentives or “swag” to promote the programs?
Funding for this program cannot be used to “buy” participation or provide monetary assistance directly to individual participants. Allowable program expenses may include promotional items that are part of a broad marketing and outreach plan.
Completing the SLE Project Application
Where do I submit my SLE Project application(s)?
The 2023-2024 SLE Project grant application period is open until October 18, 2023. You can complete your application directly at dfpi.grantplatform.com.
How can my organization work with other organizations to apply for a grant?
Collaboration among one or more organizations is allowed and is encouraged when it enables organizations to leverage resources and expertise. A grantee signs the grant agreement and serves as the primary contact for the project. Only the grantee can benefit from the grant funds. A grantee may subcontract services that it has agreed to provide under the grant agreement, so long as those services are conducted on behalf of the grantee. Subcontract arrangements must be clearly described in the scope of work and budget.
Accepting grant funds with the intent of distributing those funds to other nonprofit organizations (for example, sub-grants or fiscal sponsorship) is not allowed.
To the extent possible, subcontractors should also be nonprofit organizations as defined in the program eligibility guidelines. Subcontracting arrangements (whether for profit or nonprofit), will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and funding may be excluded at the Commissioner’s discretion.
Certificates of Status: Where can I request these documents and how recent must the certificates be?
Certificates of Status must be obtained from the CA Secretary of State. They should be dated within 90 days of the application submission. Here is a link to the form you may use to request this documentation: https://bizfileonline.sos.ca.gov/. Certificates of status from other agencies will not be accepted.
If your organization originates/only operates in California, you are only required to submit one Certificate. National nonprofits that have local chapters will need to submit two Certificates of Status – one for California and the other from the state of their headquarters.
Should I submit the SLE Project application, supporting documents, grant proposal, representations, agreements and covenants all together at the same time?
During the open grant period, you can save your work and resume at a later time. Be sure, however, that all sections are completed and the required documents are uploaded before signing and submitting the application.
When submitting the signature page is one signature enough?
No. You must submit two signatures, one from the Board Chair and one from an Executive Officer (CEO or Executive Director).
If I have more questions, who can I contact?
Please contact Grants@dfpi.ca.gov with additional questions.