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Norwalk chooses nonprofit ARPA recipients; ‘tough decisions’ frustrate some

Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels speaks to the Common Council, May 10 on Zoom.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk is set to distribute $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to local non-profits.

The federal allocation for the Community Recovery Fund allocation fell short of requests totaling $2.5 million, causing a highly competitive selection process, said Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels, adding, “We had to make some very tough decisions.”

That sparked controversy, as the Common Council Community Services Committee labored over two meetings to work out objections. Council member Diana Révolus (D-District B) called the chosen list “ridiculous” at the first meeting but absent from the second; she said she was “forced” to recuse herself.

The organizations that were chosen for one-time grant funds were “big names that are going to perpetuate things, that aren’t really going to hit the grassroot level and the ground running” as opposed to “people who are actually working with the community and our low hanging fruit and bringing up our kids,” she said on April 20.

“The Norwalk Community Recovery Fund Program is administered by the Norwalk Community Services Department and was designed to give local assistance to nonprofit organizations to address community needs due to the negative economic impacts of the pandemic,” a City news release said Monday. “In 2021, the Community Services Department, in collaboration with its community partners, identified and prioritized seven organizational focus areas to invest these funds: Eviction prevention, homelessness interventions, behavioral and mental health, early education, workforce initiatives, organizational support, and youth prevention.”

To be considered, eligible nonprofits had to be categorized as a 501(c)(3) and be in business for more than three years.

Nonprofit organizations selected include:

  • Carver Foundation, receiving $90,472
  • Connecticut Renaissance, Inc., receiving $70,000
  • DVCC Norwalk Safe House, receiving $44,846
  • Elder House Inc., receiving $25,000
  • Family & Children’s Agency, receiving $100,000
  • Horizons at Norwalk Community College, receiving $20,000
  • Human Services Council, receiving $75,000
  • Liberation Programs, Inc., receiving $70,000
  • Mid Fairfield Child Guidance Center, Inc., receiving $70,000;
  • Norwalk ACTS, receiving $70,000;
  • Norwalk/Catholic Charities of Fairfield County, receiving $100,000
  • Norwalk Community College Foundation, receiving $7,000
  • Norwalk Community Health Center, receiving $105,000
  • Norwalk Grassroots Tennis and Education, receiving $70,950
  • Norwalk Housing Authority, receiving $50,000
  • Norwalk Senior Center, Inc., receiving $20,000
  • Open Door Shelter, Inc., $65,000
  • Person 2 Person, receiving $80,000
  • Positive Directions, receiving $40,000
  • Saturday Academy, Inc., receiving $24,900
  • Steppingstones Museum for Children, receiving $70,000
  • The Housing Collective, Inc. (formerly Supportive Housing Works, Inc.), $160,500
  • Triangle Community Center, Inc., receiving $70,000

 

Left out was Youth Business Initiative, a two-year-old program in which high-risk underserved youth get workforce training and mentorship from local community members.

“It was said to us, you know, in the beginning that organizations should be working together… a group of us got together as a collaborative in South Norwalk,” YBI founder Dujuan Wiggins protested. When told their $400,000 request was too high, they cut it to $180,000, but were still denied.

“We’re looking to serve 70 to 100 students in a year,” he said. “… Typically, people in South Norwalk, black and brown people in these communities, have been shunned, and have not got their fair share.”

“When I talk to the kids, they feel like Norwalk does not invest in them, and it impacts how they perform in school and how they perform, you know, just motivated to work outside,” Tristan Fields said.

“There continues to be a disconnect between the good intentions of City Hall and the people that need help in South Norwalk and lower income, minority communities around the city,” Jalin Sead said.

Daniels elaborately explained the selection process. The City worked with federal guidelines, not City guidelines, he said.

“Once the City received applications, they were sent to their respective panel review committee comprised of both city and outside independent subject matter experts. The respective panel review committees evaluated the applications and made recommendations based on a scoring rubric,” the City news release summarized.

Daniels, on April 20, explained that “every organization has to provide three years of their annual statements” “they have to show fiscal management” and “the infrastructure and so forth.”

“This money cannot be used to build a program in of itself,” he said.

Révolus said she wasn’t “minimizing” the chosen beneficiaries, “but I am minimizing the process and what is being looked at and particularly … who’s being overlooked…. it’s also very absurd that organizations who are already funded are getting heavily funded.”

“I stand by the process,” Daniels replied. “What I will also say is that this our program was not designed for startups.”

One key criterion was “financial stability of an organization” and the funding request “cannot be more than 50% of an organization’s budget,” he said. “…ARPA was designed to look at programs to expand and to increase service array based on what the federal guidelines were.”

The Committee voted to table the item to get a better understanding of what startups are. On May 4, after listening to Daniels elaborate further, the Committee, without Révolus, voted unanimously to move the list forward, as submitted.

“Unfortunately, the demand for funding far exceeded the amount we were allocated to distribute. And I cannot emphasize that enough,” Daniels said.

He explained, “a third of funding went to organizations that address public health, and that includes mental health services, and substance abuse services. A third of funding, 37%… to eviction services in job training programs assistance, and then a third went to services to disproportionately impacted communities. And that’s education assistance around the social emotional and mental health services and housing support services.”

“Last year, we decided to allocate $1.5 million of Federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to nonprofit organizations that provide essential community services to help our residents recover from this pandemic,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in Monday’s news release. “While this pandemic has impacted everyone, it has exacerbated homelessness and eviction rates, significantly worsened people’s mental health, and disproportionately impacted the most marginalized members of our community. Through the creation of the Norwalk Community Recovery Fund Program, I’m proud that we’re able to distribute these funds to nearly two-dozen local nonprofits that are on the ground, addressing these urgent challenges.”

“The Community Recovery Fund was a highly competitive process,” the news release said. “The City received far more applications than available for funding and could only fund 67% of the organizations that applied. However, there will be another round of opportunity for funding for nonprofit organizations impacted by COVID-19.”

“A lot of work and detail went into choosing these organizations and these projects. $1.5 million dollars really isn’t a lot to work with, is it, if you think about the tremendous need and our community,” Council Majority Leader Barbara Smyth (D-At Large) said at the May 10 Council meeting where the list was unanimously approved.

“It’s very difficult to look at an application and not fund it,” Rilling said. “But decisions have to be made when you only have so many funds to allocate.”

Why recuse?

Council member Nicol Ayers (D-District A) also recused herself. She was not part of either discussion.

“A city official serving on a board, commission or the Council may choose to recuse himself or herself from participating in an application that is before the board, commission or the Council due to a conflict of interest or appearance of conflict,” Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola explained in an email. “The city official has the sole discretion to decide whether or not it is necessary to recuse himself or herself from participating regarding the application.  Any city official has the opportunity to seek confidential legal advice from one of the attorneys in the Law Department regarding a potential recusal.  Even after receiving legal advice, the city official still has the sole discretion to decide whether or not to recuse himself or herself.”

Révolus didn’t say exactly why she recused herself, but, “I’m not the only one with a conflict. That’s also an annoyance.”

Copy edits, 1 a.m. Wednesday.

 

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