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Behavioral Interventions Scholars

Grants to USA Nonprofits, For-Profits, Agencies, and IHEs
for Dissertations on Issues Impacting Low-Income Families

Agency Type:


Funding Source:

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) - Administration for Children and Families (ACF) - Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE)

LOI Date:


Deadline Date:

06/01/18 4:30 PM ET Hard Copy Receipt; or 11:59 PM ET Electronic Receipt


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Grants ranging from $20,000 to $25,000 per year to USA nonprofits, for-profits, government agencies, and IHEs to support dissertation research addressing issues affecting low-income and vulnerable families within the country. Applicants are advised to create or verify the required registrations well in advance of the deadline date.

The Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation (OPRE) within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) announces the availability of funds for Behavioral Interventions Scholars grants to support dissertation research by advanced graduate students who are applying a behavioral economics or behavioral science lens to issues facing low-income and other vulnerable families in the United States. Behavioral science, which integrates various related disciplines, aims to describe and predict human decision-making and behavior in a way that is closer to reality than what traditional, or neoclassical, economic theory predicts. These grants are meant to build capacity in the research field to use behavioral science approaches to examine specific research questions of relevance to social service programs and policies, and to foster mentoring relationships between high-quality doctoral students and faculty members or other experienced researchers.


Many human services programs are designed such that individuals must make active decisions and go through a series of steps in order to benefit from them—from deciding which programs to apply for, to completing forms, attending meetings, showing proof of eligibility, and arranging travel and child care. Program designers often implicitly assume that individuals will carefully consider options and make decisions that maximize their well-being. Yet innovative research in the area of behavioral science has shown that human decision-making is often imperfect and imprecise. Behavioral science, which integrates various related disciplines, aims to describe and predict human decision-making and behavior in a way that is closer to reality than what traditional, or neoclassical, economic theory predicts. While the traditional theory assumes that individuals weigh costs and benefits and make “rational” decisions, behavioral theory recognizes that attention, self-control, and other cognitive resources are limited and can be overwhelmed, and it is unlikely that most people use all available information to make a decision. People – clients and program administrators alike – procrastinate, get overwhelmed by choices, and miss important details. As a result, both programs and participants may not always achieve the goals they set for themselves.

Since 2010, OPRE has explored ways to apply insights from behavioral economics, or behavioral science, to improve the operations, implementation, and efficacy of the human services programs and policies administered by ACF. The Behavioral Interventions Scholars grants are intended to support dissertation research to continue building empirical evidence in the field of behavioral science, specifically as applied to social services programs and policies and other issues facing poor and vulnerable families in the United States, and to strengthen the capacity of next-generation researchers to conduct rigorous, policy-relevant research in this area. The goal of this work is to learn how tools from behavioral science can be used to deliver programs more effectively and, ultimately, improve the well-being of low-income children, adults, and families. Insights from behavioral economics and from the broader field of behavioral science suggest that applying a deeper understanding of decision-making and behavior can improve human services program design and outcomes. Principles from behavioral science can both shed light on decision-making and offer new tools to improve outcomes for program participants. Small changes in the environment can facilitate desired behaviors and personal responsibility; planning and commitment devices can be used to improve self-control; and changed default rules can help lead to positive outcomes.

Between 2012 and 2015, the researchers supported by OPRE's Behavioral Interventions to Advance Self-Sufficiency (BIAS) project worked with 8 states and localities to develop 15 tests of behavioral interventions in the domains of work support, child care, and child support. The interventions, all of which were tested using randomized controlled trials, included simplifying and redesigning communication materials using behavioral principles; providing personalized child care referrals; and sending reminder messages via telephone, text message, or postcard. The results of these tests demonstrated the promise of applying insights from behavioral science to improve human services program outcomes. In 11 of the 15 randomized controlled trials, behavioral "nudges" like reminders or simplified, personal letters had a statistically significant impact on at least one primary outcome of interest. BIAS interventions increased child care subsidy renewal rates and the use of quality-rated care; boosted requests for child support order modifications and frequency of payment; and fostered engagement in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other social service appointments and activities.

Following this first round of successful trials, OPRE launched the BIAS Next Generation research project in 2016, which is building on the activities and lessons of the first generation of interventions as well as going beyond this work in various ways.

The Behavioral Interventions Scholars grant program, initiated in 2017, complements OPRE's ongoing behavioral science work by building capacity in the research field to apply a behavioral science lens to social service programs and/or to issues facing poor and vulnerable families in the United States, and to foster mentoring relationships between high-quality doctoral students and faculty members or other experienced researchers working in this field.

The specific goals of the Behavioral Interventions Scholars grants are to:

1. Facilitate the completion of high-quality research projects that will add to the growing body of knowledge on effective behavioral interventions with direct relevance to issues facing low- income families and other vulnerable groups.

2. Directly support graduate students’ engagement in behavioral science research as it relates to ACF programs and/or populations, as well as their training and professional development. Students are expected to become autonomous researchers with specialized knowledge of the intersection of behavioral insights and issues affecting ACF populations.

3. Foster mentoring relationships between faculty members or other experienced researchers and graduate students who are pursuing doctoral-level research in the field of applied behavioral science or related fields. Each student will work in partnership with a mentor to foster the skills necessary to build a graduate student's career trajectory. Within this mentoring relationship, scholars are expected to become independent researchers with the skills necessary to carry out behavioral science studies with a high level of technical quality.

4. Encourage active communication, networking, and collaboration among the group of graduate student grantees, their mentors, and other prominent researchers in the field, both during the graduate students’ training as well as into the early stages of their research careers.

5. Disseminate information about effective behavioral interventions, including by increasing knowledge-sharing with human services practitioners.

Research Topics of Interest:

As they relate to low-income and other vulnerable populations in the United States, research topics that are of particular interest for this announcement include (but are not limited to):

1. Behavioral interventions within the domains of:
-TANF and the safety net;
-Employment and the labor market;
-Job training and education;
-Child welfare and foster care;
-Housing and homelessness;
-Financial security and economic independence;
-Human trafficking;
-Refugee assistance;
-Teen pregnancy prevention;
-Child care;
-Child support;
-Head Start and early childhood education;
-Early childhood home visiting;
-Family strengthening;
-Family violence prevention; and
-Healthy marriage and responsible fatherhood;

2. Increasing client participation and/or retention in programs and services;

3. Increasing client uptake and/or maintenance of public assistance benefits;

4. Motivating behaviors related to compliance with program rules and participation in required activities;

5. Interventions aimed at sustaining longer-term changes in habits and behaviors;

6. The respective impacts of interventions targeting clients versus those targeting caseworkers or program/service providers;

7. The respective impacts of interventions at different levels of intensity, from nudges to more systemic behaviorally informed changes;

8. The comparative effects of different types of behavioral interventions with the same goals;

9. The applicability to other contexts of behavioral interventions previously shown to work in one particular context; and

10. Implementation studies to understand how participants experience and respond to behavioral interventions.

Project Requirements:

1. Research Dissemination

-Conferences and Meetings. Participation in two conferences annually is mandatory. The first is the required grantee meeting, which is anticipated to occur in Washington, DC, and is likely to last one day. Additionally, participation for at least two days in the Research and Evaluation Conference on Self-Sufficiency (RECS), historically held in late May or early June, in Washington, DC, is required. This is a biennial conference. On the off years when RECS is not held, scholars are required to attend another relevant conference of their choice. The proposed budget must reflect funds to cover travel, lodging, and other costs for the scholar to attend both of these conferences. The mentor/principal investigator is only required to attend the grantee meeting. If funding for travel costs for either the scholars and/or the mentor will come from another source of travel funds, this should be clearly noted in the application's budget and budget justification.

-Research Briefs and Briefings. Twice during the project period, the scholar is expected to prepare a one- to two-page brief describing the objectives, hypotheses and/or findings (when available), and the potential practice or policy implications of their research projects. These briefs will be required at the beginning and end of the project period. At the beginning of the project period, OPRE will provide grantees with guidance to support the development of the research briefs. In addition, the grantee may be asked to present at research briefings in Washington, DC. Work plans/timelines included in the application must reflect time and effort for preparation of the two required research briefs during the course of the project. (The budget need not reflect travel funds for possible briefing(s) in Washington, DC, as any requested briefings will be scheduled to coincide with grantee meetings or will take place via video conference.)

-Archiving. OPRE will work with each grantee to identify optimum venues/repositories for archiving final data sets and other research products.

2. Approved Dissertation Proposal. Ideally, the graduate student should have an approved dissertation proposal by the due date of the grant application. If, however, the student does not have an approved dissertation proposal at the time of the application, the student must have approval prior to the award date of September 28, 2018. Additionally, if the proposal has not been approved at the time of the application submission, the scope and the research cannot change substantially from what was proposed in the application.

3. Principal Investigator/Mentor. The Principal Investigator/mentor must regularly monitor the student’s work. (Note: Although the mentor is listed as the Principal Investigator and must be committed to taking a central role in supporting the proposed dissertation research, this grant is intended for dissertation research by an individual student.) Mentors must provide substantial time and resources in mentoring doctoral-level student researchers in an effort to:

-Provide ethical oversight and quality control of students’ research.
-Develop students’ expertise in applied research.
-Help students establish their independent line of research that will provide the foundation for their professional career.
-Foster students’ partnerships with and dissemination efforts to social service programs, policymakers, and the research community.


Since the merit of the application and the award are aligned with the support of a specific graduate student, awards may not be transferred to support another graduate student not specifically named in the application.

Grants awarded as a result of this competition are not transferable to another entity without prior written approval from ACF. In addition, grant funds may not be used to support project activities outside of the scope of the proposal of the awarded project without prior written approval by ACF.

Sharing of Awards:

The awards are for support of an individual graduate student researcher. Awards cannot be divided among two or more students (i.e., no co-investigators).

Indirect Costs:

If the applicant entity voluntarily relinquishes his or her indirect costs, or chooses to apply off- campus research rates, an authorized representative of the entity must submit a written acknowledgement that the indirect costs are being relinquished or a lower rate is being used. This voluntary decision to relinquish indirect costs or to apply off-campus research rates will not impact eligibility to submit an application and will not be a factor in objective review.

GrantWatch ID#:

GrantWatch ID#: 183420

Estimated Total Program Funding:


Number of Grants:

Expected Number of Awards: 4

Estimated Size of Grant:

-Award Ceiling: $25,000 Per Budget Period
-Award Floor: $20,000 Per Budget Period
-Average Projected Award Amount: $25,000 Per Budget Period

Term of Contract:

Applicants may request a 12-month project period or a 24-month project period with two 12-month budget periods.


  • City or township governments
  • County governments
  • For profit organizations other than small businesses
  • Independent school districts
  • Indian housing authorities
  • Native American tribal governments (Federally recognized)
  • Native American tribal organizations (other than Federally recognized tribal governments)
  • Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, other than institutions of higher education
  • Nonprofits that do not have a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, other than institutions of higher education
  • Private institutions of higher education
  • Public and State controlled institutions of higher education
  • Public housing authorities
  • See RFP and/or Grant Guidelines for full eligibility
  • Small businesses
  • Special district governments
  • State governments

Additional Eligibility Criteria:

Eligible Applicants:

Under Title XI, part A, section 1110 of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1310), eligibility is open to “States and public and other organizations and agencies for paying part of the cost of research or demonstration projects such as those...which will help improve the administration and effectiveness of programs carried on or assisted under the Social Security Act and programs related thereto.”

Eligible U.S. entities may apply on behalf of a Principal Investigator who will serve as a mentor for an international non-U.S. citizen who is an advanced graduate student.

Additional Information on Eligibility:

Applicants are required to submit written evidence that research is a primary organizational activity as part of the application submission. The required documentation is described in Section IV.2. The Project Description, Additional Eligibility Documentation. Lack of the required documentation will disqualify the application from review and from award.

Applicants are required to submit a letter of support from the graduate student’s mentor, acting as the project’s Principal Investigator, that approves the application and provides a description of how the mentor will regularly monitor the student’s work.

The Principal Investigator (mentor) must have earned a doctorate or equivalent in a relevant field, must conduct research as a primary professional responsibility, and must have published or have been accepted for publication in at least one major peer-reviewed research journal as a first or second author, as evidenced in his/her curriculum vitae and/or biographical sketch.

Applications from individuals (including sole proprietorships) and foreign entities are not eligible and will be disqualified from competitive review and from funding under this announcement.

Pre-Application Information:

Grantees are required to meet a non-federal share of the project cost, in accordance with Social Security Act Section 1110(a)(1)(A). For all federal awards, any shared costs or matching funds and all contributions, including cash and third-party in-kind contributions, must be accepted as part of the recipient’s cost sharing or matching when such contributions meet all of the criteria listed in 45 CFR 75.306.

All applicants must have a DUNS Number and an active registration with the System for Award Management.

Obtaining a DUNS Number may take 1 to 2 days.

All applicants are required to maintain an active SAM registration until the application process is complete. If a grant is awarded, registration at SAM must be active throughout the life of the award.

Plan ahead. Allow at least 10 business days after you submit your registration for it to become active in SAM and at least an additional 24 hours before that registration information is available in other government systems, i.e.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to notify ACF of their intention to submit an application under this announcement. Please submit the letter of intent by May 2, 2018.

The deadline for electronic application submission is 11:59 PM, ET on June 1, 2018.

The deadline for receipt of paper applications is 4:30 PM ET, on June 1, 2018.

Key Dates:
-Due Date For Letter of Intent: 05/02/2018
-Due Date for Applications: 06/01/2018

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Contact Information:

Before starting your grant application, please review the funding source's website listed below for updates/changes/addendums/conferences/LOIs.

Program Office Contact:

Victoria Kabak
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation
330 C Street SW., 4th Floor
Washington, DC 20201
Phone: (202) 401-5871

Office of Grants Management Contact:

Tim Chappelle
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families
330 C Street SW., 3rd Floor
Washington, DC 20201
Phone: (202) 401-4855

Address to Request Application Package:

Behavioral Interventions Scholars Grants c/o ICF International
9300 Lee Highway
Fairfax, VA 22031

P: (877) 350-5913
F: (703) 934-3740

CFDA Number:


Funding or Pin Number:


URL for Full Text (RFP):

Geographic Focus:

USA: Alabama;   Alaska;   Arizona;   Arkansas;   California;   Colorado;   Connecticut;   Delaware;   Florida;   Georgia;   Hawaii;   Idaho;   Illinois;   Indiana;   Iowa;   Kansas;   Kentucky;   Louisiana;   Maine;   Maryland;   Massachusetts;   Michigan;   Minnesota;   Mississippi;   Missouri;   Montana;   Nebraska;   Nevada;   New Hampshire;   New Jersey;   New Mexico;   New York City;   New York;   North Carolina;   North Dakota;   Ohio;   Oklahoma;   Oregon;   Pennsylvania;   Rhode Island;   South Carolina;   South Dakota;   Tennessee;   Texas;   Utah;   Vermont;   Virginia;   Washington, DC;   Washington;   West Virginia;   Wisconsin;   Wyoming