ELYRIA, Ohio – Julie Chase-Morefield was delighted to learn in late December that her nonprofit, Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, would soon receive a $ 4.6 million share from Lorain County, after his agency would have supported the community. through a year like none in recent history.
In 2020, as the pandemic raged, Second harvest had provided food to 154,000 people – nearly double the number the organization had served the previous year. That’s about a third of the population in his service area, Chase-Morefield told me. With the $ 236,000, Second Harvest planned to set up more drive-thru distribution sites in underserved areas and help its partner pantries increase capacity with more food, shelving and storage. cold.
But only weeks later, in January, two newly-elected Republican county commissioners, Michelle Hung and David Moore, overturned Democratic commissioner Matt Lundy and voted to revoke money approved by their predecessors. According to The Chronicle-Telegram, commissioners argued that former board members falsely awarded county general fund money just to politically embarrass Hung and Moore, knowing the two Republicans would not approve of the spending. They said the county government was not a charitable institution and instead the money was needed for the county’s operating expenses – despite a carryover of $ 21 million from the previous year.
Surprisingly, Hung and Moore did not see the point in funding the organizations that hundreds of thousands of Lorain County residents have relied on to survive the financial and psychological fallout of this public health crisis. Their decision devastated more than 20 social service agencies that relied on injecting cash to help meet growing needs for food, shelter and drug treatment during the pandemic. Rent and utility assistance, senior meal programs, animal charities and children’s programs were among those who lost funding due to the erroneous and nearsighted decision of the commissioners.
Neither Hung nor Moore responded to my calls for comment this week.
Lundy, the only Democrat to be re-elected to the three-member board, told me he and his former colleagues had the noblest of intentions when they awarded the grants last year. The county found out late in the year that it had received $ 16 million in funding from the CARES Act, offered by the federal government to help overcome the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. Lundy said the commissioners recognized how important community organizations are in keeping families safe, fed and safe. They also knew the financial burden was significant and they wanted to help offset that. But disbursing the grants directly from pandemic relief funds would have burdened agencies with costly audits. To avoid this hassle and meet deadlines, the commissioners consulted with the county attorney, county auditor and state auditor’s office to find a workaround.
Long story short – commissioners learned they could use CARES law money to cover security forces, including the county jail, the sheriff’s office, and the 911 service. In turn, this would free up money. money in the general fund to be used for community grants without the bureaucratic paperwork.
“The need is vast,” Lundy said. “We were trying to get the community through what we knew to be a tough first quarter of 2021. If using that money in this way doesn’t serve a public purpose in the midst of a pandemic, I don’t know what does. “
Sadly, the checks weren’t cut by the time Hung and Moore took office, opening the door to what was to come.
The new commissioners argued that the money was not funding for the CARES Act, but rather an inappropriate use of the county’s general fund, aimed at ultimately turning the public against the new commissioners.
“The public and these agencies have been used as political pawns to embarrass this council,” Moore said at a meeting in January. “This money from the general fund is intended for the operation of the county. We are not the Lorain County Community Foundation.
As you can probably imagine, their decision sparked a storm of controversy on social media. Lundy said the emails were pouring in. The agencies were stunned by this turn of events.
Sister Mary Berigan, Executive Director of the Children’s Crisis Center House of Blessing, told The Chronicle that the canceled funds weren’t just for nonprofits.
“No one was filling their bank account or redecorating their offices,” Berigan said. “These funds were intended to meet the needs of the residents of Lorain County. Each of these nonprofits is a piece of the puzzle serving local families. “
U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat who represents Lorain County, also released a statement, calling on commissioners to stop playing a “short-sighted shell game with public money” and restore subsidies. . The spirit of the CARES Act’s bipartisan funding was to help local communities scale up services and get through the pandemic, she said.
“At a time like this, revoking funding to struggling nonprofits and county agencies that have been battered by unprecedented demand on their resources is undermining their ability to respond and the confidence of our citizens in the community. community response, ”Kaptur said.
It does not appear, so far, that any of these appeals for troubled families have appealed to the sense of humanity, ethics or compassion of Hung and Moore, determined as they are to. Tighten the purse strings on the county’s general fund, as nonprofits stretch their dollars to ease the region’s suffering. But that won’t stop me – and it shouldn’t stop you – from joining the chorus of voices calling on these Commissioners to put their community before politics and do the right thing with the money. To give. This. Back.
You can contact columnist Leila Atassi at [email protected]