Loudoun County supervisors have approved $1.1 million in grants in their annual grants program, amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has hit nonprofits hard and warnings from nonprofit leaders that the county funding does not go far enough.
To win funding from the county, nonprofits enter a competitive grant process where their applications are scored and ranked, and must rise above a certain score to be considered for funding. But with limited funding in the program, even those nonprofits that qualify are not guaranteed to get funding—the money starts with the highest-ranked application and trickles down from there. It is the result of a years-long effort to take politics on the Board of Supervisors out of county grant funding, and attempt to score grant applications objectively.
While 33 nonprofits made applications that met the county’s qualifications for grant funding, due to budget restrictions, only 20 are recommended for funding. Seven more organizations qualified for $5,000 mini-grants.
This year’s recommendations also do not include the annual 3-percent increase for grant funding, as supervisors have directed county staff members to freeze new spending due to the tax revenue impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Results from the competitive process prompted a letter from the Loudoun Human Services Network, a coalition of charitable nonprofits, pointing out that the 33 qualifying applications totaled nearly $2.2 million in requests; the county recommendations will give less than half of that.
“Over the last several years it has become evident that the allocation of funding available for the Human Services Nonprofit Grant funding is not sufficient to meet the growing needs of our community,” the letter read.
Lisa Kimball, CEO of the Arc of Loudoun, said one of the nonprofits has received major funding in the past but none this year, also asked supervisors to put more money into the program.
“Strong, successful, hyper-critical programs such as those that the Arc provides are often founded by the county one year but not the next, sending the message to the most vulnerable among us that their specific needs simply do not matter at the end of the fiscal year,” Kimball said, calling into supervisors’ electronic meeting Tuesday, April 21.
Supervisors at that meeting debated whether to spread the available money a little further, giving less to top-ranked organizations like Loudoun Hunger Relief, the Chris Atwood Foundation and Loudoun Literacy Council to spread that money among other qualifying but unfunded organizations like SCAN of Northern Virginia, Tree of Life Ministries, All Ages Read Together and Inova Health Care Services.
Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) argued against that.
“Supervisors don’t want to be in the process of picking and choosing winners and losers,” she said. “Our hands are off this process as a competitive grant process, and if we start pulling this nonprofit out to put this nonprofit in, then we’ve kind of sullied the whole reason for having a whole competitive process that we’re not involved in.”
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), who first kicked off the effort to get supervisors out of those grantmaking decisions two terms ago, said the nonprofit grants “compel donations from taxpayers to charitable organizations. That’s a significant thing, if you think about it.” And he said is fine with some organizations not winning funding.
“In this case, we’re taking other people’s money and we’re giving it to somebody else,” Letourneau said. “So in order for us to do that, we should have a high threshold. We should demand excellence, we should demand accountability, and they should be organizations that are fitting the criteria that we think we absolutely need to spend money on.”
Only Supervisors Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) and Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) argued for spreading the money around further, due to the ongoing pandemic. Kershner said “we have a number of these organizations that we can help, we have an opportunity to help them.”
“If there is a time to break away, perhaps, from what the precedent is and sticking to being wed to this, we have an opportunity to do that,” Kershner said.
Turner said supervisors should “recognize the impact COVID-19 is having on the entire nonprofit community.”
“In the context of this process, I think there’s justification this one time,” he said.
Supervisors voted 7-2 to stick with the recommendations from the competitive grants process.
Qualifying organizations that will miss out this year include, among others, All Ages Read Together, Inova Health Care Services, the Good Shepherd Alliance, the Arc of Loudoun, the YMCA Loudoun County Youth Development Center, and Mobile Hope. They requested funding to support efforts such as supporting the elderly and disabled; forensic nursing services for people who have experienced physical and sexual violence; and keeping the emergency homeless shelter and five transitional homes open.
Nonprofits working to serve people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic may have more help coming their way. Assistant County Administrator Valmarie Turner said this year Loudoun can expect an $830,000 boost in another competitive grant program, Community Development Block Grants, specifically for addressing COVID-19.
Randall also said she had planned to propose adding another $500,000 to the nonprofit grants program this year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, straining county finances. She said she still intends to propose that as soon as possible.
“The overall bucket of money has been sorely, sorely underfunded for decades, and if we are going to support the people who support our citizens who are often most in need, that stretches that taxpayer dollar and makes it go much further,” Randall said.
Supervisors last year took six nonprofits out of the competitive grant process, instead funding those organizations directly. Because they did not reduce the funding in the competitive grant pool, that effectively increased the total amount of county government funding for nonprofits. Those include HealthWorks for Northern Virginia, the Loudoun Free Clinic, Northern Virginia Dental Clinic, Blue Ridge Speech and Hearing, Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers, and the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter. Last year, those nonprofits were collectively granted $648,373.