Proposals on deck to help Fayetteville arts organizations, other nonprofits with pandemic relief aid

File photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK
The city of Fayetteville logo is seen at City Hall on Feb. 14, 2017.
File photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK The city of Fayetteville logo is seen at City Hall on Feb. 14, 2017.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A pair of proposals adding up to $4 million leave City Council members with a choice on how to spend the rest of their share of American Rescue Plan money.

Council Member Sonia Harvey sponsored a measure to allocate $3 million in either financial assistance or grant money for projects to arts and culture nonprofits operating in the city.

Separately, Council Member Teresa Turk sponsored a measure for $1 million that would allow organizations to apply for financial assistance for pandemic-related revenue losses incurred between March 2020 and March 2021. The city's existing program providing financial assistance to nonprofits covers revenue losses between March 2021 to March 2022.

The council will consider both proposals Tuesday.

Both proposals would involve their own application processes. The time frame for the arts and culture proposal is tentatively scheduled to have the city accept applications beginning in February. The city's financial staff would review applications to ensure which ones meet the federal government's requirements. By March, the city's resident-led Arts Council, an advisory panel to the City Council, would review the eligible applications and make a list of recommendations. The City Council would take the Arts Council's recommendations and decide which organizations to grant money to by April.

A tentative timetable for processing applications hasn't been set for the financial assistance proposal, but it would operate much like the previous application process that was open from Feb. 18 through April. The City Council ended up approving all of the eligible applications it received from nonprofits trying to recoup financial losses during the pandemic -- a total of $582,013 to 11 organizations.

The largest amount of financial assistance went to St. James Missionary Baptist Church at $150,510. FHA Development, the Fayetteville Housing Authority's development nonprofit, received the second-largest amount at $104,936. The Fayetteville Public Library Foundation, the fundraising nonprofit for the library, received the third largest amount at $89,016.

Organizations seeking financial assistance had to provide supporting documents to the city to verify the amounts. The time period covered for financial losses was March 2021 to March 2022. Turk said she wanted to make sure nonprofits had an opportunity to recoup losses they may have incurred at the onset in the first year of the pandemic.

Trials and tabulations

The city has broken up its disbursement of $17.9 million in federal American Rescue Plan money into three categories.

Nonprofits had two options.

They could ask for money to simply recoup past financial losses during the pandemic as long as they provided proper documentation to the city. They also could get money in exchange for a service to the community. That process involves entering into a "subrecipient" agreement with the city that stays in effect for however long the proposed project or program lasts.

The third bucket was for city projects. The council so far has allocated nearly $7.8 million of the total for city uses. The largest portion, nearly $5.1 million, was to recoup the city's financial losses during the pandemic and could be used for a variety of purposes, such as water and sewer work, parks or computer network upgrades. The council hasn't yet decided on the use of that money.

Other city uses have included about $1.8 million in employee appreciation pay, $500,000 toward a child care voucher program, $201,840 for a study to assess water quality at Lake Fayetteville and $181,100 to a vaccine incentive program.

As for the nonprofit subrecipient group, the council so far has approved about $4.2 million for projects. The largest amount, about $1.4 million, went to the Watershed Conservation Resource Center for floodplain conservation efforts. The Fayetteville Public Library received more than $1.2 million for a workforce development program at its center for innovation and teaching kitchen. Central EMS received $757,917 to purchase ambulances and equipment and provide premium pay to employees. Peace at Home Family Shelter received $686,500 to put toward its expansion. The Northwest Arkansas Council received $93,969 for its vaccine awareness campaign.

All told, the council has approved spending more than $12.6 million of the $17.9 million total.

In addition to Harvey's $3 million proposal and Turk's $1 million proposal, the council will have two other potential allocations on its agenda Tuesday. Magdalene Serenity House is asking for $128,789 to renovate a house for graduates of its program for formerly incarcerated women. WelcomeHealth seeks $75,000 to help provide free medical and dental care to clients for a year.

On Jan. 17, the council is scheduled to take up a proposal to provide Excellerate Foundation with $742,223 for an occupational training program.

If the council were to approve all five proposed uses of the federal aid money, totaling about $4.9 million, that would leave $343,699 unallocated.

Looking ahead

There are still a few subrecipient program proposals that ranked highly on the city's scoring system that council members have not brought up for consideration.

The Illinois River Watershed Partnership asked for $893,272 for stormwater maintenance work. Beaver Watershed Alliance asked for $100,000 to clean up the Town Branch watershed. Legal Aid of Arkansas asked for $92,156 to provide legal services to residents whose Medicaid was cut off.

Additionally, Apple Seeds sought $71,000 to provide food and cooking classes to low-income families. The Northwest Arkansas Crisis Intervention Center wanted $50,000 to support its suicide prevention hotline. Credit Counseling of Arkansas asked for $35,200 to provide financial counseling to low-income residents.

There are still more organizations whose applications for programs or projects didn't rank as high. The city received a total of 34 applications seeking more than $20 million.

A child care voucher program to which the city dedicated $500,000 has had about 150 requests for applications with 35-40 applications submitted, Chief Financial Officer Paul Becker said. The program is scheduled to start next month.

The program will provide vouchers for low- to moderate-income families to cover child care costs for up to 12 monthly payments to the child care provider. Anyone who lives, works or goes to school in the city and meets the income guidelines can apply.

At its agenda-setting session Tuesday, Becker and Mayor Lioneld Jordan told the City Council the program likely will need more money.

"That's going to be a very popular program," Becker said.

The city has to obligate all of its American Rescue Plan money by the end of 2024 and spend it by 2026. Otherwise, the city must return any unspent money to the federal government.

Harvey said the council has a tough job ahead figuring out the best use of the remaining rescue plan money. She said the $3 million proposed for arts and culture organizations was a suggestion of the Arts Council with the idea being to aim high and see how much the City Council would be willing to allocate. Harvey, who represents the City Council on the Arts Council, said she's open to discussing the amount.

Harvey said she wanted groups in the creative economy to have their own opportunity to receive assistance in order for them to stand out among other requests. She has heard from a number of representatives of arts organizations who have said they're still feeling the pandemic's effects.

"To me, it's about providing relief to the individuals and sectors that were impacted the most by covid," she said.

Turk said she felt the main purpose of the rescue plan money should be to allow nonprofits to recover lost revenue. She suspected the city may get more applications in higher amounts than the first time by extending the period to the onset of the pandemic from March 2020 to March 2021, when many covid-related restrictions were in place.

"We really need to make these groups whole again, to get them back on their feet," Turk said.

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