On Friday, June 12th, Greenville County Council met and approved a plan to spend $91 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds, which were transferred to the county in April as part of the CARES Act. These funds were awarded to localities with 500,000 people or more to address the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Greenville County’s amount equals about half of its total annual budget, and Treasury Department requires these funds to be expended by 12/30/20.
The plan that was passed on Friday included several items of interest to nonprofits and philanthropic funders:
- $75 million will be made available for small grants to businesses and nonprofits of between $5,000 and $10,000, depending on number of employees. The County will use several local financial institutions to administer these grants.
- $4 million is budgeted for public and community health. A portion of this will be made in grants from the County to organizations to help with homelessness, food services, health, and mental and behavioral health.
- $3.5 million is budgeted to provide assistance with rent, mortgage, and/or utilities, not to exceed $3,000 per household AS WELL AS assistance to child care providers (through small business grants). As of now, this will be administered by Greenville County Redevelopment Authority and Greenville County Human Relations Commission.
In the County Council meeting on June 16th, the county administrator Joe Kernell expressed plans to have a website to apply for grants open in early July. We have no information on housing or child care fund distribution at this time.
GPP and NPA are pleased that nonprofits are included in business grant eligibility and that funds may be available to help nonprofits on the front lines better serve Greenville County residents. It is VERY important for eligible nonprofits to apply for these funds as soon as possible, as all indications are that they will be distributed on a “first come, first served” basis; we will let you know as soon as the guidelines and process are developed.
We are also pleased that there is recognition that housing and child care are important.
However, there are three things in the process and outcome that are concerning:
Originally, the plan’s $3.5 million “pot” of funds was exclusively for housing – mortgage, rent, and utility assistance. GPP and NPA felt that this amount was too low given that the state’s eviction moratorium was just lifted, but we were glad that it was included. We also separately advocated for child care to be included in the plan. By the time the plan was presented to Greenville County Council on Friday afternoon, the $3.5 million “pot” was divided between housing and child care. So in essence, the housing amount went down. And, it appears that the support for child care providers is practically the same as what was already available to them through small business grants.
The amount that has been flagged for contingency funds is just $3.8 million, or around 4% of the fund. The county has until 12/30/20 to expend the funds, and as our rates of infection are climbing, the return to school in the fall is uncertain, and our economy’s recovery unknown, we feel the county should set aside more funding in order to be adaptive as COVID unfolds here. We recognize, however, that Mr. Kernell noted in his presentation to council that the plan is “fluid,” and it appears that the administration does intend to approach the plan’s execution adaptively.
Lastly and most importantly, we are concerned by the lack of transparency in how the development and approval of the plan unfolded.
- Funds were received by the county in April, and in early May, county staff had private small group meetings with council members to begin discussing the plan.
- Council Chairman Butch Kirven was cited in the Greenville News on May 4th as saying he predicted there would be a special meeting “in the next week or two” to discuss the $91 million COVID relief plan.
- When Council members asked about this special meeting or other reports at the regular council meetings on May 19th, and on June 2nd, , the County Administrator reported that they were working on the “daunting task” of developing plans, which would be presented to the council very soon.
- On June 11th, the Greenville News reported that special small group meetings (meaning they fell below public meeting requirements) were held with council members on June 10th – but we constituents still didn’t know what the plan included.
- After that article was published, a council meeting was called (hastily, we presume, because the public notice was posted just 24 hours ahead of time) for Friday, June 12th at 3:30. But no plan document was posted with the meeting agenda, so constituents had no way to see what the plan included.
- The plan was leaked to the Greenville News on the morning of the meeting, giving the public about five hours to see the plan before the meeting.
- No public comment was allowed at the meeting, which took place via zoom, and the plan was passed with one reading (rather than the three readings usually required for council ordinances).
- The plan was passed with an 11-1 vote, with Lynn Ballard as the lone “no,” because of his discomfort with the process and lack of transparency. Council members Liz Seman and Rick Roberts expressed similar concerns about transparency and the process.
Several council members noted that they had received public input on the plan – and that seemed to consist of the calls that NPA and GPP members made to let them know of the work you’ve been doing to help during the pandemic.
So what’s next? As soon as the county develops its guidelines and process to apply for grant support for nonprofits’ work, we will let you know (and we hope that they will have public information sessions). But more importantly, it is essential that we all stay engaged in the work of our local government. Our nonprofit and funding community does vital work to make Greenville County better for the people who live here. We work hand-in-hand with the private sector to create access to opportunity. We were gratified to see so many of you and your board members step into this advocacy work, and we look forward to keeping you engaged going forward.