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Nonprofit leaders make case for $2M in ARP funds

Leaders of the two largest umbrella charities in Hendersonville made the case before the Board of Commissioners on Wednesday that the mission of the robust nonprofit community here aligns closely with the goals of the American Rescue Plan and that those agencies could effectively use ARP money to combat homelessness, hunger, mental health needs, child care and more.

McCray Benson, the president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Henderson County, and Denise Cumbee Long, executive director of the United Way, described to commissioners the ways local agencies could benefit from the rescue plan money and help the community.

"We respectfully request that 10 percent, or at least $2 million, of the county’s ARP Act funds be set aside allowing Henderson County leadership and experienced providers from the nonprofit community to create a focused approach to key community needs that could be substantially impacted by ARP funds," the two leaders said in a joint statement at the close of their presentation.

Commissioners took no action after the nonprofit leaders' appeal but both Chairman Bill Lapsley and Vice Chair Rebecca McCall, a strong supporter of helping improve child-care services, signaled that at least some of the request could be funded.

"Your request is timely," Lapsley said, noting that the board has until December 2024 to appropriate the ARP money and until December 2026 to complete the capital projects or services it funds. The board has committed around $18 million of its two-year ARP allocation from the federal government and has $4 million left.

After Benson and Long asked for an audience in April, the board directed its staff to meet with the two leaders and frame help frame the presentation. The two leaders emphasized that nonprofits in the county work collaboratively now to identify needs, find solutions and avoid duplication, that they cover areas the rescue plan targets for help and that they're accustomed to the kind of bookkeeping and accountability the ARP requires.

"Many of the ARP Act descriptions and categories considered for relief match the programs that area providers have been stretched to the outer capacities to address," Benson said.

Benson and Long cited numerous specific needs that in the community that are already the bailiwick of the many nonprofits in human services and other areas, including:

  • Domestic violence: "The isolation and increased family stressors during the pandemic exacerbated interpersonal violence and related risks," Long said. "During 2021, Safelight, an agency serving victims of interpersonal violence saw a 35 percent increase in calls to their 24/7 emergency hotline, and a 43% increase in clients needing counseling services. ARP Act funds could support Safelight services or help fund renovations to the shelter which will be needed; or support service delivery during this time of increased demand.
  • Hunger: "The onset of the pandemic brought an exponential increase in the numbers of people seeking food assistance: access to a food pantry provides financial stability to vulnerable households, enabling people to stretch budgets for other basic needs such as rent, medicine or utilities," Benson said.m "High inflation and escalating fuel prices are impacting the ability of MANNA and its partner organizations in Henderson County to keep up with the demand. Even as Covid impact has slowly eased, demand for food assistance has remained high with an estimated 2.1 million pounds to be distributed by June 30, 2022." ARP money could help food pantries buy food and equipment needed to distribute it including refrigerator trucks, freezers, refrigerators, vans and storage. 
  • Housing: A recent housing survey found that the county has many "cost-burdened" households — those that pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent or a mortgage — with 57 percent of renters and 25 percent of homeowners in that category. Rental vacancy stands at .2 percent and 453 applicants are on the waiting list for subsidized housing. "ARP funding could be used to support affordable housing projects that are in progress or to develop future projects," Benson said.
  • Child care: A lack of workers during the pandemic caused a 15 percent drop in the number of child care facilities at a time when families needed the service to continue working. "Local nonprofits working on early childhood workforce development and workforce retention could be assisted by ARP Act funds," Long said. "There are also projects being developed to help bring high-quality learning and interventions to children who are not attending childcare centers."

ARP-approved services and local needs are parallel, Benson and Long said, and can be met by local nonprofits with proven records in those areas. They've engaged with other funders, including NC Blue Cross / Blue Shield Foundation and the Dogwood Health Foundation, about increasing support and potentially matching ARP grants, they said.