Portland agencies, businesses plead for piece of federal funds
PORTLAND — City Councilors listened to two hours of testimony Monday from representatives of social service agencies competing for federal Community Development Block Grant funds doled out annually by the city.
A committee charged with reviewing applications and then ranking them for program impact, capacity to deliver, collaboration and coordination, and principles recommended funding for 21 of the 32 social service programs that applied. The city received about $718,000 for social service funding this year and about $1.15 million in requests.
The committee forwards its recommendations to City Manager Joseph Gray and the City Council. Gray makes his own recommendations for funding, too, and this year has recommended funding three programs that did not score high enough in the committee's review – including two that scored in the bottom four. Gray also recommended not funding a YMCA program and reducing recommended funding for a neighborhood outreach and crime watch program in the West End spearheaded by Mercy Hospital.
Gray also told councilors that the city stands to receive an additional $600,000 in CDBG funds from the federal stimulus plan. He was not sure when that money might be allocated and said it may have some different guidelines, including that it may be earmarked for physical improvements. This year the city got about $1.6 million for physical improvements.
In Gray's recommendations, The Children's Co-Op child-care program, Youth and Family Outreach Early Reading Program and the Peaks Island Children's Workshop would be funded. Committee members in the past have resisted funding the Peaks program, saying it is not in a low- to middle-income qualifying census tract.
Amy Grommes Pulaski, manager of the CDBG funding program for the city, said the Peaks program has for the past few years been "on the line" for qualifying, reporting about 53 percent low- to moderate-income participants. The requirement for funding is 51 percent.
Pulaski said her department worked with the director of the Peaks program about funding qualifying families on the island directly as a way of qualifying for CDBG funds. There are five to 10 families on the island that could take advantage of the $5,000 allocation, should the City Council approve it, she said.
While no one from the Peaks Island program testified Monday, Rob Ellis of Youth and Family Outreach addressed the council, asking them to follow Gray's recommendation. Ellis said the early reading program, which the agency took over from Portland West, has proven popular. He also said that investing in early childhood development does not happen enough and should be supported by the council.
Representatives from the Children's Co-Op said their program is one of the few nonprofit child-care programs in the city. Deb Rawding said that although the $8,500 recommended by Gray was substantially less than the program needs to survive (it requested $17,000), she hopes the council would approve his recommendation.
The senior citizen arts program Spiral Arts requested $17,200 in funding this year and was not recommended for any. It received $5,000 in 2008. Executive Director Priscilla Dreyman said the program provides socialization and purpose for older people living in Franklin Towers, many of whom are isolated and lonely. She said clients of the program are "very distressed that this programming might disappear."
"Our entire program for elders in public housing will be discontinued unless we find another source of funding," Dreyman said.
Programs that were recommended for funding by both the committee and Gray include:
• Cultivating Community's food and youth empowerment program.
• Amistad Peer Support and Recovery.
• Frannie Peabody Center.
• PROP senior volunteers program.
• East Bayside Neighborhood Organization.
• Catherine Morrill Day Nursery.
• Preble Street shelters.
• Wayside, St. Lukes and St. Vincent Society soup kitchens.
• The Compass Project boat-building for at risk youth.
The City Council is scheduled to hold another public hearing and a vote on the CDBG recommendations March 30 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org.