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County ARP Committee seeks clarification on funding criteria


The Cumberland County American Rescue Plan Committee met Friday to consider funding for applicants under two ARP programs: the Small Business Economic Assistance Program and the Aid to Nonprofit Organization program. Much of the meeting centered on committee members questioning the rigidity of eligibility requirements.

President Biden in 2021 signed the American Rescue Plan Act to offset economic business losses suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ARP includes $350 billion in Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, and Cumberland County’s allocation is $65 million.

The money can be used to reimburse eligible costs incurred between March 3, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2024. Monies must be obligated by Dec. 31, 2024, and expended by Dec. 31, 2026, according to ARP. 

The county Board of Commissioners earlier this year allocated $3.5 million to fund nonprofit organizations to conduct programs or projects that help the county recover from and respond to COVID-19 and its negative impact.

The ARP Committee and administrative staff spent much of the two-hour meeting discussing the complexities of both programs.

Commissioner Jimmy Keefe is chairman of the committee. Board Chairman Glenn Adams and Commissioner Toni Steward, the board’s vice chairwoman, complete the three-member committee.

Twenty-nine local businesses have completed applications for Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. The recommended distribution amount is $1,031,353, according to a memo to the committee from Brenda Jackson, the county’s ARP program manager. Jackson did not attend Friday’s meeting. Tye Vaught, county chief of staff, responded to committee questions.

In her memo, Jackson states that each application has been reviewed and each applicant has submitted appropriate documents that show that the business has a reasonable capacity to use the recommended award in a fiscally responsible way and perform a public purpose.

The staff's recommendations total $1,031,353, but the awards are contingent on the successful execution of a contract with the county. County staff will visit the businesses to confirm their operating addresses are valid, and to ensure they are properly filed with the N.C. Secretary of State for corporations and limited liability companies, according to Jackson’s memo.

The businesses are listed in two categories: those that received previous funding and those that have not. Those asking for funding for the first time are:

NinaCarolHair, asking for $25,000 for payroll expenses and recommended to receive $25,000; Atlas Tax Preparer, asking for $35,000 to pay back rent and re-hire an employee but recommended for $15,000; XPO Nails, asking for $50,000 for operational costs and wages but recommended for $25,000 to hire three employees; and Elegance Weddings and Events, asking for $50,000 but recommended for $4,500 for payroll funding to keep one owner-employee.

Vaught said none of the businesses so far have been denied, but those that did not submit all of the requested documentation and information were placed in a secondary category. Vaught estimates that number is around 60. He said many of those businesses would have qualified had they submitted the required information.

Adams asked when the county will close the application process. Vaught said the committee could do so now if it wished.

Adams said he was frustrated in the process.

“If someone offers me money, I would meet the deadline,’’ he said. Adams also said the county may be too rigid in its eligibility requirements.

“These are small businesses. They don’t have the time or energy. We need to be more flexible in getting this money out,” he said.

Keefe agreed and asked the staff if the program information is reaching the right people at the correct point of contact.

Vaught assured them he contacted them individually.

Stewart echoed those comments.

“We need deadlines so people stop waiting. There’s nothing worse than waiting and then not getting anything,” she said.

Stewart also suggested that some small businesses may not have qualified because they did not know how to fill out the application.

“It’s all in the labeling,” she said.

Keefe said he was concerned with some businesses that were not listed in the Secretary of State website business directory.

There’s no digital signature that gives a location,” he said.

Vaught assured the committee that the staff’s proposed on-site visits would determine further eligibility for funding.

County Manager Amy Cannon told committee members her staff would come back with a plan next week with definitive deadlines and a timeline for implementation, and provide that information to the committee.

Committee members also asked staff to explain funding criteria, noting that some businesses got the amount they asked for while others received half the amount they requested.

Vaught and County Attorney Rick Moorefield said funding cannot be for past expenses and have to be related to COVID-19-induced losses. Moorefield also said that funding sometimes would qualify under state law but could be in violation of federal laws.

Cannon earlier in the meeting introduced Noah Johnson, strategic project coordinator with the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, who had been assigned to Cumberland County to help with determining what is permissible under the complex rules associated with ARP. He also will help the county with technical assistance with the opioid settlement money. Johnson’s salary will be paid by the association.

In other action, Vaught asked for approval to contact eight high staff-rated nonprofit organizations to determine their level of risk as sub-awardees for services they are proposing to provide to the county.

The county in January and February accepted proposals from the local nonprofits regarding their abilities to provide those services. The county received 42 proposals from 38 nonprofit organizations.

The ARP Committee’s staff appointed a Nonprofit Review Panel composed of county staff and legal experts. The panel reviewed and ranked the proposals per the Responsive Proposal Review Guidelines approved by the board on May 16. The county’s legal staff identified 19 proposals ineligible for sub-award, and the panel did not review those proposals. However, the staff ranked the remaining 21 proposals from highest to lowest. The eight highest-scored entities submitted budgets totaling $3,353,058. Before the county can execute a sub-award agreement, it must conduct risk assessments to determine the entity's level of risk as a sub-awardee.

The top eight nonprofits and proposed budgets are:

  1. Fayetteville Urban Ministry Inc., $750,000.
  2. Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County, $271,375.
  3. Carolina Collaborative Community Care Inc., $508,196.
  4. Healing Hands of Love Kingdom Connections International, $161,500.
  5. Cumberland HealthNET, $500,000.
  6. Cumberland County Council on Older Adults, $476,615.
  7. Employment Source Inc., $159,827.
  8. Connections of Cumberland County Inc., $525,545.

However, committee members questioned both the selection and funding eligibility of some of the organizations that were chosen.

Adams said some of the proposed funding is for programs those organizations already are providing.

“It looks as though whatever they requested, we gave it to them,” he said.

Adams asked Vaught for a copy of the rubric his panel used to score the nonprofit organizations.

“Did the rubric consider those agencies that did not have the expertise in submitting an application?”

The committee asked the staff to review all 21 applicants again, doing what they called a “deep dive” on each organization. Stewart recused herself from voting or discussing one of the organizations with which she is associated.

Jason Brady covers Cumberland County government for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at jbrady@cityviewnc.com.

Cumberland County, Board of Commissioners, Cumberland County American Rescue Plan Committee, funding, nonprofits, businesses, COVID-19