Panel denies some social service grants

Assembly to decide whether to reject agency requests because of incorrect applications

Posted: Friday, April 19, 2002

Twelve Juneau social service programs could lose out on city funding because they filed grant applications late or incorrectly, based on a recommendation from a city advisory panel.

The Juneau Social Services Advisory Board reviewed 26 applications from local nonprofit and social services groups earlier this month to determine how to allocate $472,500 in block grants during the upcoming city budget cycle.

The board is recommending that the Juneau Assembly fund 15 proposals that address domestic violence, adult education, family services, the homeless, housing and other issues.

But the board declined to review and score nine applications that weren't filled out correctly, committee head Kathy Miller said. Another three that were late weren't considered at all, she told the Assembly on Wednesday.

"It did say clearly that there should be a one-page needs statement," Miller told the Assembly. "I think that if you do look at the fact that 17 of the 26 did follow the directions, it was clear."

The 26 agencies asked for a total of $894,490 this year, up from a $636,736 request from 17 agencies two years ago. The amount of funding the city can distribute hasn't changed.

Board members didn't feel good about turning away grant applications, but wanted to uphold the integrity of the process, she said.

The remaining proposals were scored on uniqueness, how well the project fits with other community programs, and the community's needs, Miller said. The final decision is up to the Assembly. The board can score and review the rejected applications if Assembly members wish, Miller said.

Mayor Sally Smith said she sympathizes with the board's position, but added that nonprofit groups may turn in long applications because they're invested in an issue.

"As a former grant writer, I know that whenever you don't follow instructions, you're kicked out," she said.

Assembly member Dale Anderson asked the board to be clear on the consequences of violating the rules.

"Usually in government, more is better," he said, referring to groups that used more than one page to write a needs statement. "I have heartburn that we're turning away good folks."

The Tongass Community Counseling Center in Juneau received nearly $50,000 a year from the city during the last budget cycle. One of TCCC's applications this year was late, and the other was rejected for technical reasons, TCCC Executive Director Valerie Kelly said. The requests would fund adolescent counseling and a conference for providers about preventing youth violence, she said.

Kelly said she'd like the Assembly to reconsider the funding requests. While most of the application was clear, some of the instructions were open to interpretation, she said.

"Our question is ... will those technical clerical issues take priority in services over their own scoring criteria?" she said. "It won't kill the agency, but it will have a negative impact on the agency and in the community."

Nonetheless, it is up the funding source to "make the criteria as rigid or as flexible as they choose," Kelly added.

Gastineau Human Services' three applications met the requirements and were scored. Executive Director Greg Pease said funding agencies often are particular about the number of pages in an application, the format and even the font.

"It's got to be an objective approach and you have to be particular," he said. "Like any other grant application, you can't turn it in late."

At the same time, Pease said many social service agencies in Juneau are short-staffed and the demise of the city's social services department has "been a bone of contention."

"There's pressure on agencies to provide services and money is tight," he said. "When you're looking for a large amount of money from a block grant and it's deemed unresponsive, that's going to hurt."

The Assembly didn't make a decision Wednesday. Finance Committee Chairman Jim Powell said the issue will be considered as work on the budget continues.

Agencies that filed applications that were late or rejected for technical reasons include Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Southeast Alaska, the Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, Shanti of Southeast Alaska, Juneau Youth Services, TCCC, the Boys and Girls Club, Hospice and Home Care of Juneau, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Southeast Alaska Independent Living, and REACH. Six of those groups received city block grant funding in the last budget cycle.

The board used the same application as in previous years, but changed the scoring method to a two-tiered system this year, Miller said. Agencies were asked to keep requests at one of two levels up to $25,000 or up to $50,000. Last time, agencies could ask for any amount and all the applications were funded using a percentage-based system, according to the city.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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