Representatives from nonprofits across the Elm City made their case for a slice of federal money before the Board of Aldermen Thursday night.
Nearly 30 groups appeared in front of the Board’s joint community development and human services committee, asking for money in the form of federal Community Development Block Grants to support their organizations. But with cities like New Haven receiving less money from the federal government than in previous years, there is more at stake in process of deciding the allocation of funds.
The city will receive a total of $6,443,460 in federal funding this year, $3,673,534 of which is from Community Development Block Grants, compared to $3,891,395 in CDBG funding last year. Many community organizations rely on these federal funds to cover operating costs, especially CDBGs, which are designated for local community development.
“Over the past two years, New Haven’s total allocation has been reduced by more than $1 million,” City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton ’04 said in a statement following the federal government’s release of its CDBG budget. “Due to the substantial decrease in funding, the city narrowed its funding priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, focusing on evidence-based youth development activities, job training and employment opportunities, public safety and neighborhood revitalization.”
The process of allocating CDBG funding began with Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s budget proposal, released March 1, in which Benton said he tried to eliminate funding for all “non-prioritized” organizations. DeStefano’s proposed funding allocation will act as a rough draft for the committee as they determine the quantity of funds each agency will receive.
Under the Board of Aldermen’s process, each of the agencies that applies for funding comes before the committee to explain their funding needs, whether or not their application is approved. Thursday night, a majority of the agencies sailed through the committee, often receiving less funding than in years past.
“We’ve had to be a little bit tighter, a little bit stricter than in past years,” committee co-chair Sergio Rodriguez told one such applicant.
But three different organizations whose applications had been rejected for being incomplete came to the Board to plead their cases for what they said was vital funding. Along with some aldermen on the committee, they complained about what they said was an overly bureaucratic process.
Laurie Roger, whose application asking for $20,000 to support community programming at St. Luke’s Church was rejected, asked the committee to reconsider. It was her first time applying, she said, and their accountants told her she did not need to include certain forms.
Rodriguez apologized to Roger, and promised the committee would look into her request.
“It is a cumbersome application, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “But, there is a process to it and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The CDBG application process began in November, when community organizations attended a mandatory meeting and submitted applications to be considered for funding. After the committee has made its own recommendations, the entire Board will vote on the final CDBG budget proposal, which Rodriguez said will happen in late April or early May.
Following the meeting, Rodriguez, who has been through the CDBG process before, advised the freshman aldermen on the committee. In response to a question from Ward 1 Alderman Sarah Eidelson ’12, Rodriguez said he did not recommend reversing any rejection, since to do so would require taking the money from another organization that already expected to receive funding.
“You take money away from an agency, you’ve got to justify why you’re going to do it. But sometimes you gotta do it,” Rodriguez said. “You saw the agencies tonight, they’re all in need of more money than we can give them.”
The joint committee will meet again on Monday to continue hearing testimony from organizations.