Thurston agrees to fund nonprofit pandemic recovery grants
Thurston County is moving forward with plans to fund various nonprofit and business grants with its latest round of federal COVID-19 relief funding.
The county received $ 28.2 million in American Rescue Act funding on May 19, and a similar amount is expected about a year from that day. Since then, the county has decided to allocate a total of $ 10.5 million for proposals drafted by two local organizations.
On Thursday, council approved a $ 1.5 million proposal from the Thurston County United Way that would benefit various support programs. On June 29, the board of directors approved plans to fund $ 9 million of a $ 10 million proposal from Thurston Strong that would support the local business community.
Chris Wells, executive director of United Way, told The Olympian she was grateful for the board’s support as it will help meet the needs of those still struggling with the effects of the pandemic.
“There is this feeling that we are putting this pandemic behind us… but not everyone agrees yet,” Wells said. “There are still a lot of people who are really struggling and it will take time for the community to recover. ”
Michael Cade, executive director of the Economic Development Council, also said he appreciated the commission’s support for Thurston Strong’s proposal.
“I want to thank the county for really playing a leadership role in how it manages the use of its funds, ensuring that they get sent to the community that needs them,” Cade said. . “It’s a big problem.”
United Way’s proposal includes $ 215,084 for two nonprofit grants that would support shelter operations, staff, and hotel rooms for families with children. Those grants would go to the Thurston County Food Bank’s other bank and the Family Support Center, according to a proposal document.
The proposal also included $ 149,358 for two nonprofit grants that would fund senior nutrition and support programs at Senior Services for South Sound.
Additionally, the plan includes $ 476,150 for three nonprofit grants that would support community feeding programs, a county-wide food bank and a basic needs program. These grants support the Rochester Organization of Families (ROOF), Catholic Community Services, and the Thurston County Food Bank.
Under the proposal, youth support programs and parent and child support programs for homeless families would receive funding through four grants totaling $ 539,408. These grants would benefit the Family Support Center, the ROOF, the South Sound YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Thurston County.
Finally, $ 120,000 is earmarked for a general grant pending directives from the US Department of the Treasury.
Wells said United Way chose to include these nonprofits in its proposal after soliciting nominations and identifying gaps in basic needs across the community.
“In some cases, due to the pandemic, sources of funding have been lost and they need to be strengthened,” Wells said. “They need help to be able to deliver services at the level they see a need for. “
She added that she did not know when these funds will reach the nonprofits on the proposal, as her organization has yet to finalize a contract with the county.
Thurston Strong’s proposal
To draft their $ 10 million proposal, Thurston Strong staff used data-driven economic analysis and input from various local partner organizations, Cade said.
“It’s really a data driven discussion that you need to have, but you also need to have a human touch,” Cade said. “You really have to understand where business is suffering. These are not statistics, they are individuals with jobs, with families.
Thurston Strong’s proposal includes $ 1.3 million for an employment program for workers and $ 2.2 million for 200 business grants, $ 900,000 for about 80 nonprofit grants, $ 100,000 for entertainment venues promotions and $ 100,000 for vaccine incentives.
The vaccine incentive program may allow the county to host more mobile clinics where people could get gift cards or products from local businesses as a reward for being immunized.
Commissioner Gary Edwards said he did not feel inclined to support vaccination incentives because he believes it would be unfair to those who have already been vaccinated.
Additionally, the Thurston Strong allocation includes $ 3.3 million for a so-called “minority business investment” that would fund grants for minority-owned businesses, create a new minority business advisory board, and help build launch a community cultural center.
The advisory board would recommend policies that would help minority-owned businesses compete and grow in the local and national economy, said Jennica Machado, head of economic development for Thurston County.
Cade told The Olympian that this board would be part of Thurston Strong rather than a separate organization. He said he hopes this advice will help ensure resources are directed where they are needed.
“We are doing everything we can to… make sure that as we move into the economic recovery, the businesses that have historically been excluded from recovery dollars all have access to those in Thurston County,” Cade said. .
While the proposal has well-intentioned intent, Commissioner Carolina Mejia said she was concerned about the impact of such advice.
“When I hear the minority advisory board, they usually make me nervous because I’ve had experience with things where they mean well, but it ends up being an anchor and not really anything. thing that has an impact, ”Mejia said.
She said she hopes this council will be made up of genuinely heard minorities.
Thurston Strong’s proposal also includes $ 2.1 million for agricultural market subsidies and solutions to the labor shortage.
Although commissioners backed most of the grants, they refrained from allocating around $ 1 million to address farm labor shortages, citing a desire for more information on the program.
The next step for the county will be to put in place compliance guidelines and draft contracts for the grants, which will follow a reimbursement model, Machado said in an emailed statement. She indicated that this process will apply to both the United Way and Thurston Strong proposals.
The remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds have yet to be allocated, according to Machado. Commissioners will vote on additional proposals at a later date, she wrote.