"Congressional authorization of federal assistance to state and local governments can be traced back to the Continental Congress and its approval of the granting of nationally owned land to states formed out of the Northwest Territory. Those lands were to be sold for the support of public education. Congress subsequently granted millions of acres for wagon road and canal construction, 64 million acres for improvements to river navigation, and several thousand acres for the establishment and support of land grant colleges. The first federal cash grant program was adopted in 1808, to provide funds to states to support the National Guard. Since that time, there has been dramatic growth in federal cash assistance programs, now commonly referred to as 'federal grant programs' or 'federal domestic assistance programs.' These programs transfer money, property, services, or other items of value for which the principal purpose is to accomplish a goal authorized by Congress. A broader definition of federal domestic assistance would include loans. There are currently 2,179 congressionally authorized federal domestic assistance programs. The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) indicates that of these, 1,714 are federal grant programs, which can be further broken out as formula (225) and project (1489) grant programs administered by 26 federal agencies."
CRS Report for Congress, R42769