Today is supposed to be last day organizations can apply for some of Dayton’s $138 million in federal rescue funds, but some citizens and civil rights groups are urging the city to push back its deadline to give community members more time to respond, especially small minority businesses and entrepreneurs unversed in grant writing.
“The process the city chose to announce its Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) and solicit responses to the NOFO is proving confusing, overly rushed, and detrimental to the very people it is intending to assist,” wrote Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton Unit NAACP, in an Oct. 28 letter to the city manager. “A number of potential respondents to the three NOFOs released by the city have contacted the Dayton Unit NAACP expressing concern over this process and frustration at receiving conflicting guidance.”
Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein earlier this month said the city completed a great deal of outreach to educate community members and groups about the application process and eligibility guidelines, including 10 technical assistance workshops.
Dickstein said this process was modeled off one the city uses to allocate its Community Development Block Grant funds, and the process is meant to ensure the city complies with strict federal regulations.
“The process requires us to really be deliberate around how we disburse that funding,” she said. “It is not easy to execute and spend $140 million on top of the $175 million we spend in a regular year.”
Dayton has been awarded about $138 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that was approved by lawmakers and signed by President Joe Biden.
Last month, Dayton issued a notice of funding opportunities inviting nonprofit, for-profit and faith-based groups to submit applications requesting funding for eligible projects.
The city’s funds can be put toward projects that help mitigate the health and economic impacts of COVID-19 and projects that help some of the hardest-hit communities and families, such as in areas in west and northwest Dayton.
Projects must be for capital or one-time expenses, located in Dayton and “self-sustaining,” city documents state.
At the last two commission meetings, Jo Cooley-Love, Sadé Diké and other community members asked city leaders to extend the application deadline.
A small group of people also protested outside of City Hall last week, carrying signs that read, “We want transparency,” “Black/brown communities need ARPA funds” and other messages.
Cooley-Love said the federal funds are a “life-changing” opportunity to address some of the community’s most pressing problems, but the city’s application process has been a mess.
Cooley-Love said the city did not give community members nearly enough time to prepare and submit applications, especially since the funds do not have to be obligated until the end of 2024.
“I’m not sure what the rush is,” she said. “We demand equity, we want an extension.”
Cooley-Love said ensuring compliance with the guidelines is not easy and takes time, especially for small businesses and groups that do not have experience with grant applications, including some Black and brown organizations. She said the online portal only went live in late September and there were technical problems with the website.
Dayton held technical-assistance workshops to answer questions, but only a couple of sessions were held after business hours, meaning many people did not have an opportunity to get the information they need, Cooley-Love said.
Diké, a Dayton resident, said she is concerned the city’s expenditures eligibility guidelines are too narrow and the federal money isn’t going to be used as intended and like it should be.
City Manager Dickstein recently said the city is trying to be intentional and strategic and wants to have three years to execute its allocation plan for its rescue funds.
In early December, the city will hold community meetings to share its draft allocation plan, Dickstein said, and the commission likely will have a work session about the plan on Dec. 8, followed by a public hearing and a vote by the commission the week after.
Dickstein said the website had some technical issues that staff fixed as quickly as they could, and last week she said the city had already received 66 early applications.
Cooley-Love, Diké and Foward have asked the city to make seven modifications to its notice of funding opportunities.
---They asked for the deadline to be pushed back until the end of March, and that the city offer additional assistance to potential grant-seekers.
--- They also asked for more clear guidance on allowable capital expenses and they want wages, salaries and operating costs to be qualifying expenditures.
--- They also have asked the city to share more of its data before the application due date and to say how much funding it will award to projects.
“I strongly urge the city of Dayton to implement the ... recommendations to improve the application process, lessen respondent apprehension and prevent community resentment in implementing the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds,” wrote Foward in his letter to the city manager.
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