$1 million available for Whitfield County nonprofits

·3 min read

Jun. 16—The Whitfield County Board of Commissioners has made $1 million from its federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds available to help local nonprofits that were adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A committee the commissioners formed to help decide how to distribute that money held its first meet Wednesday. The members are County Clerk Blanca Cardona, Sheriff Scott Chitwood, Superior Court Judge Cindy Morris, county Public Information Officer Valeria Molina, grant administrator Carol Roberts, County Administrator Robert Sivick and County Attorney Robert Smalley. Morris was elected chairman and Chitwood vice chairman.

Roberts said under ARPA rules to receive funding an organization must be a 501© located and operating in Whitfield County, and it must be able to document either loss of revenue during 2020 and 2021 compared to 2019 or be able to document expenses related to reducing the spread of COVID-19. Sivick said that could include things such as purchases of personal protective equipment. Roberts said expenses or loss of revenue cannot have previously been compensated by any other federal programs.

Roberts said if county officials choose the county could also use the money for certain operations going forward that are authorized by ARPA, such as replenishing food banks. There was a consensus among the committee members to allow groups to apply for funding for such operations.

"Churches and other religious organizations are eligible," said Sivick. "But not for operations or proselytizing. Only for social and humanitarian services."

Jake Bearden, a county employee, was there as a member of the public to speak in favor of distributing ARPA funds to local nonprofits.

Committee members asked Roberts to have an application form ready for review by the committee's next meeting. Committee members said they anticipate they will have significantly more requests for funding than they will be able to provide. They asked staff members to talk to United Way of Northwest Georgia officials and to the organizers of the Roman Open golf tournament, which raises money for a number of local organizations, about how they determine how to spend the funds they raise so the committee members can develop a scoring mechanism to weigh requests. They said for larger requests they will ask nonprofits to prioritize their needs so that if the committee can't fund their full request they might be able to fund the most important parts of it.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Jevin Jensen said no nonprofits were selected to be represented on the committee because it could create conflicts of interest.

"They may apply or be in competition with other applicants in the future, since the amount of money to be distributed is one time and limited," he said.

Sivick said there is a similar concern about appointing private citizens to the committee.

"It is my experience, here and throughout the country, people willing to serve and do the work are very publicly minded," he said. "Government boards and committees benefit from having such people, but those attributes almost always mean they have ties to local nonprofits as well. Having such folks on the committee could preclude those nonprofits from seeking funds or cause people to question the committee's objectivity. This is a real concern as undoubtedly we will not be able to fulfill all the allocation requests from nonprofits."