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Commissioners approve ARPA funding despite concerns

Mark Parker



The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners approved the first round of the American Rescue Plan Act Nonprofit Capital Project Fund during Tuesday's meeting. Photo: Pinellas County Government.

Following an ardent discussion over what organizations made the cut, Pinellas County Commissioners approved the initial allocation of the American Rescue Plan Act Nonprofit Capital Project Fund.

The Pinellas Community Foundation (PCF) is now dispersing $19 million to local nonprofits on the county government’s behalf, with the first round of funding supporting projects costing less than $200,000. The first $2.25 million will help 34 nonprofits acquire critical needs ranging from passenger vans to medical equipment.

PCF convened an independent rank and review committee to score 80 qualifying applications based on various criteria. An organization’s ability to effectively help communities most affected economically by the pandemic was a critical aspect.

The $19 million stems from the county’s allotment of $189 million in ARPA money. PCF will distribute the remaining nonprofit capital funds in two rounds – with one for purchases under $200,000 and one for projects costing up to $5 million. While commissioners approved the initial allocations during Tuesday’s meeting, several voiced concerns over those denied funding.

“It is frustrating when you see organizations you know have done decades and decades of good work not on the list,” said Commission Chair Charlie Justice. “We’ve heard of most of these organizations, so when you see one you’ve never heard of on there, it raises some eyebrows.”

Funding recommendations included a sound system and payment processing equipment for the Dunedin Scottish Arts Foundation; art equipment for the Gulfport Historical Society; institutional-grade art studio furniture for NOMADStudio, Inc.; and yoga equipment and laptops for the Speakeasy Media Foundation.

While officials approved Reach Services’ request for refrigerators, freezers and a van to increase food pantry capacity, several commissioners questioned a lack of approval for other meal providers. Commissioner Dave Eggers noted that one nonprofit received $88,000 for a new vehicle while others, like Metropolitan Ministries and Feeding Tampa Bay, were denied money for refrigerated trucks.

“Obviously, being able to move food is extremely important,” said Eggers. “So, from my standpoint, that would probably have had a little bit more priority than other things.”

David Bender, director of grants and operations for PCF, said foundation representatives met with the public and nonprofits from Tarpon Springs to South St. Petersburg. It also hosted two community meetings.

He explained that nonprofits had to show a direct correlation between their funding request and how it would help propel services negatively affected by the pandemic. PCF also looked for organizations that could not fund those projects through other means.

“Smaller nonprofits may have suffered greater inflationary pressures,” added Bender.

David Bender, director of grants and operations for PCF, said foundation representatives met with the public and nonprofits from Tarpon Springs to South St. Petersburg. Screengrab.

Justice noted that commissioners did not stipulate what categories of nonprofits they would like to see funded through the program. Barry Burton, county administrator, said he and PCF officials would discuss future allocations with the board.

Commissioner Renee Flowers asked if those denied funding could reapply, and Bender said, “absolutely.”

“We offered to meet – we’ve met with various organizations one-on-one,” he added. “Letting them know … here’s what you could do better next time. And if they are eligible, please come back.”

David Lomaka, executive director of Neighborly, an organization that supports senior independent living, spoke on behalf of the county’s elderly residents. He said that demographic is the largest in Pinellas, yet was mostly left out of the ARPA recommendations.

Neighborly, relayed Lomaka, has 900 seniors living in isolation without food. The state and federal government does not provide support, and he said the $200,000 in annual county funding is not enough to address a wait list that includes over 100 residents with dementia.

U.S. Treasury and PCF guidelines state that the ARPA Nonprofit Capital Project Fund would prioritize applicants that support underserved communities in Qualified Census Tracts (QCT). Lomaka guaranteed that Neighborly serves several seniors in every county zip code and QCT.

“The most dangerous situation is seniors living by themselves,” he said. “(Someone) that doesn’t see a person every day, that doesn’t get a healthy meal – any meal – every day. I don’t know what’s more dangerous, maybe someone jumping off a bridge.”

Several commissioners agreed that the program should also prioritize helping the county’s elderly.

Burton explained that program officials realized they would receive more applications than they could fund. He called having to pick and choose what organizations received the federal money “unfortunate.”

PCF, also recently tasked with distributing $9.1 million of St. Petersburg’s ARPA money, will review applicants for the next two rounds of funding and submit recommendations for the board’s approval early next year. Justice said commissioners would hold a “thorough” work session before making final decisions.

“We don’t want to be involved every step of the way,” he said. “But I think what you’re hearing today is this commission wants to be aware of the selection process throughout the process.”

For more information on the ARPA Nonprofit Capital Project Fund, visit the website here.



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