It’s expected the loss will be felt at agencies all over the city.
A portion of the funding every year, 15 percent, is allocated to social service agencies in Anniston. This fiscal year, the grant provided $96,500 for local nonprofits. Next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, that 15 percent share shrinks to $89,791.
That means some agencies won’t get to do everything they had hoped with the funding. Community Enabler requested $5,000 for food and $5,000 for school supplies and fees. It was awarded $8,000. That means, said Maudine Holloway, director of the nonprofit, the organization will provide some school supplies but won’t be able to provide any money for fees. The organization will also have to prioritize the school supplies, distributing them first for families that have no income and then to low-income families.
“That was only going to scrape the surface,” Holloway said of the $5,000 request. “We hoped that we would have been able to pay some tutoring fees for kids and pay for some things kids couldn’t afford ... They do have to have funds for just about (any extracurricular activity) up there. We just wanted to help some of those, especially those with no income at all, parents with no income at all.”
The block grant funding is coveted among local agencies, but it is awarded based on some tough federal stipulations.
The money awarded to the agencies from the grant must be used for projects above and beyond what that agency had provided before, said Dick Lindsey, one of the consultants managing the grant for Anniston. For instance, an agency could request funding for a new program or an expansion of an existing program, but it can’t be granted funds for maintaining an existing program.
That means agencies don’t automatically receive the funding and must apply for it every year; this year, it was granted to nine local agencies. Two applicant projects, Cheaha Creative Arts and the Salvation Army, were ineligible for the funds.
Besides the social service agencies, block grant funding provides money for the city’s home renovation loan program and community and economic development projects throughout the city. The money has repaired streets and sidewalks and through groups such as World Changers, repaired homes of low-income residents. This summer it will help fund a special playground being built at Zinn Park for handicapped individuals.
In existence since 1974, the block grant program is one of the longest-running Department of Housing and Urban Development programs. It was created in a consolidation of several programs, Lindsey said, but now is suffering under the economy and was cut along with many other federal programs.
Anniston City Councilman Ben Little believes the funding will eventually disappear. When he first took office in 2001, the city was receiving around $1 million a year from the block grant program. Finance Director Danny McCullars said by email the allocation had decreased over the last decade and then was beefed up with stimulus funding. But now it is at the mercy of the economy.
This year the city, which doesn’t have to apply for the money annually, will receive less than $700,000.
“The handwriting is on the wall; it’s going to go away,” Little said. “It wasn’t put in place to stay around always.”
He believes the city should use the money in high-impact ways to make sure the effects are felt for years.
“We have to use the money in the right way to make things happen,” Little said. “The city is going to be competing for this money and if Anniston is just sort of ‘mediocre-ly’ not doing anything, spotting here and spotting there and can’t really show the value of what is taking place, even though it is doing some good, it’s going to go away.”
Lindsey said funding allocations are figured with a formula taking into account the number of entitlement cities, the population, the poverty level, the age of housing in the city and other factors.
Anniston is an entitlement city because of those factors and also its status as the county seat. Lindsey said every year, the city spends what it receives and some of the programs, such as the home renovation loan program, have waiting lists.
The money does a lot of good, Little agreed, and some residents will be hurt if the funding disappears. That’s why he would still like to see a major project that would affect the community for years. Little would like to see some of the funding used to create a one-stop social-shop, a building housing many different social service agencies to make it easy and efficient to help people when they apply.
“That building will be there to serve the community for years on end,” Little said.
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.