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Erate Steps – Part III

Erate Steps – Part III: Application Review, Starting Services, & Reimbursement

Welcome back to our Erate series, where we discuss the final steps in the Erate application process. After selecting a service provider and submitting the Form 471, it’s time for your application to be reviewed, start services, and reimbursements to be requested.

Application Review

We know that you have dotted all of the I’s and crossed all of the T’s, and triple-checked your Form 471 before submitting it. However, Erate (aka USAC) has reviewers that “check the information on your form for completeness and accuracy and may have additional questions for you to answer” (USAC, 2024). Don’t worry if you receive one or more of these (Program Integrity Assurance) PIA questions. Every Form 471 application is reviewed, and it is expected to receive follow-up documentation. If it is not possible to respond to the PIA review questions within the 15-day timeframe, you can request an extension. 

Some of the different PIA review questions can include the following:

  • Eligibility of the entities receiving service
  • Eligibility of the services requested
  • Proof of CEP or NSLP and student counts 
  • Contracts
  • The competitive bidding process
  • Make/Model of equipment requested and many more…

FCDLs

One of my favorite Government acronyms is “FCDL,” which in Erate language stands for Funding Commitment Decision Letter. This is what we have worked so hard for over the past six to eight months! If you made it this far – Congratulations!! It is kind of like being in high school all over again and seeing the team roster with your name on it after making the final cut. 

The exquisite FCDL is the award letter that lets you know that your Form 471 funding request has been approved. During the PIA review process, some Erate ineligible items, such as content filtering for firewalls, might have been identified and removed from the overall funding request. Make sure you review the decision details carefully because it provides information required to start the receipt of services and/or equipment and next steps in the application process. 

Starting Services

Now, you are ready for the next step, which is to file Form 486, which is a simple form (we promise!) that lets Erate know you are, in fact, going to order the Internet, equipment and/or maintenance services requested with the Form 471. Since the Erate window opens months before the next school year, a lot can change between the planning phase and the actual needs of the students when the new school year starts. If the categories of service that you will utilize have not changed, then file the easy, peasy Form 486. Also, it is important to note that the school is also certifying their CIPA compliance on the Form 486. So, make sure that your compliance documentation is in order before submitting this form. 

The rest of the Erate process includes ordering your new equipment and upgrading your bandwidth (If requested). Keep every single receipt and document associated with the new implementations. You will need them for the reimbursement process and potential PQA, which is another audit. This potential post-award audit looks at your reimbursement requests to ensure everything is aligned with the original request and purchased appropriately.

Pay for your cost share – or – Pay for services and invoice USAC for reimbursement

There are two methods of Erate reimbursement available for ongoing monthly services and one-time purchases. They also have clever acronyms. The Government loves acronyms: 

  • SPI stands for Service Provider Invoicing
  • BEAR stands for Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement

Note: Erate is a reimbursement grant meaning the goods and services must be purchased or used first before requesting reimbursement.  

So which method is best? The short explanation is that if you select the SPI method the service provider credits the bill with the Erate portion of the payment. The BEAR is for schools to directly request reimbursement from Erate after they have paid the entire bill. The main advantage of each of these methods are:

  1. SPI-Your overall or monthly cost of services is lower because the service provider is discounting the bill so that you do not have to pay the full amount of the invoice (s). The service provider then obtains the reimbursement for themselves directly from USAC/Erate.
  2. With the BEAR method, the school has to pay in full for the services and/or equipment before requesting reimbursement. Once the reimbursement request is approved, funds are deposited directly into the school bank account. These funds are unrestricted and can be used for any school need.

The SPI and BEAR forms are filed online and require information from the FCDL.

It is important to keep every form, receipt and document related to Erate. The rule is to keep all Erate-related information for ten years! That means you will need to buy more cloud storage, backup devices and perhaps some storage bins since Erate still sends way too much paper mail. 

In conclusion, the Erate process might sound like a scary nightmare to you, but it is worth it to obtain much-needed technology for schools. Ultimately students’ learning experiences are enhanced through the Erate program and that is exactly why we continue to cut through all of the red tape, acronyms and endless forms – to help children!

Check out the application process flow below. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for more information or if you have any Erate-related questions. We are here to help!


Resources

Application Process (Flowchart). (2024). Retrieved from https://www.usac.org/wp-content/uploads/e-rate/documents/Handouts/application-process-flow-chart.pdf

Application Review. (2024). Retrieved from https://www.usac.org/e-rate/applicant-process/application-review

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