Langley unhappy with $150 million grant process

Morgan County receives only $49,000 of $150,000,000

The State of Tennessee placed $150 million worth of Tennessee Community CARES Program funding in the hands of six non-profits to be distributed statewide to non-profits.

The grant administrators selected were United Way of Greater Chattanooga, United Way of Greater Knoxville, United Way of Greater Nashville, United Way of the Mid-South, Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, and Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. These non-profits were charged with handling outreach, marketing, reporting of funds, receiving applications, approving applications, and monitoring spending of approved programs.

A ridiculously huge responsibility for non-profits, when considering $150 million was to be distributed and over $500 million was requested by non-profits across the State of Tennessee.

This system was setup for failure with no oversight and no actual matrix on how the winners were selected. $150 million is a lot of funding, and the six agencies selected were allotted as much as $4.5 million total (3%) for their efforts. In many cases, rural towns and counties across Tennessee were left out in the cold.

All six of the grant administrators were in the largest urban areas in the state (Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga).

Two Morgan County non-profits applied for funding for food, and one of those with letters of support from state and local officials was turned down. Out of $150 million of federal funding, Morgan County non-profits are expected to get $49,000.

Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee was charged with selecting the winning agencies and they selected 68 non-profits to receive help from the funding. Of the 68, 50 of the non-profits are in middle Tennessee, including 20 in Nashville.

It is easy to correlate the huge disparity in where the funding went when you consider Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee has many more ties to that area of the state, and they picked their neighbor non-profits (nearly 74% of the agencies) where the funding they were charged with handing out will go.

Placing that much money in the hands of non-profits to choose who gets funded was not the best decision and put all six agencies in a tricky situation. It seems the process put in place turned out to be a costly mistake for the rural, distressed counties and cities that Governor Bill Lee had prioritized since taking office.

One of the Morgan County non-profits denied funding by the grant administrators was Scott-Morgan Community Development Corporation. Scott-Morgan is an unbelievably valuable non-profit that serves a sizable number of residents in the western and northern part of Morgan County. This area of Morgan County is one of the most remote and rural in the entire state, and devoid of many businesses or resources to help the elderly, the poor and the deprived. This is the area that Scott-Morgan primarily provides food, shelter and other necessary items.

Why were a handful of giant, non-profit organizations put in charge of this money? This was federal money intended for non-profits to be distributed in a fair and sensible manner, and should have never been left up to their peers to make these critical decisions. Some of the non-profit companies that received the funding, have CEOs that make in the range of $537,180 to over a $1 million a year, while many of the smaller, volunteer organizations got nothing.

How did this failed process get approval from the State of Tennessee? Is it fair that Morgan County is expected to receive a mere $49,000 or .03% of $150 million that should have been distributed in a better manner?

With 93 counties in Tennessee, a million dollars could have went to each county, leaving 57 million dollars to be distributed among the more populated urban counties. And yet Morgan County, one of the poorest counties in Tennessee, is in line to receive only $49,000?

This certainly does not seem fair or sensible.

Despite the small, rural counties being pretty much left out in the cold with this funding, what is even more disappointing is there is no accountability for the system in place, and there is apparently no explanation on how the grant winners were chosen.

With $150 million up for distribution, and no accountability nor any scoring systems released to show how this money was awarded, the process is very concerning. It is very concerning that non-profits were passed over, that state leaders allowed this system to move forward, and that the non-profit grant administrators will have their names associated with this obvious failure.

In an email correspondence, Bill Smith, who is grant administrator at Second Harvest Food Bank, wrote: DHS says they will not be releasing a “matrix showing our score in comparison to other nonprofts who were awarded.”

Morgan County Executive Brian Langley is extremely disappointed in the setup and the way the grants were handled.

“I believe this was a poorly executed, terribly flawed system. To have six non-profits oversee $150 million to be awarded across the state was way too big of a responsibility for them to have, and the grants recipients prove that. The rural and distressed counties were basically left out and very little funding was awarded to them. It is really disheartening to me to know that this system was spoiled from the start with no real oversight, and definitely no planning. I’m not only speaking for Morgan County, but all the other smaller, rural counties in Tennessee that were left out in the cold with funding that could have been huge in meeting the needs of our valubale non-profits,” said Langley.

“I hope that the State of Tennessee realizes their failure in allowing this to happen, and that this will not be allowed to happen again in the near future. Morgan County deserved funding just like every other county in Tennessee.”

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