Tuesday, July 23, 2024

NHC social services says it needs $100K but county rejected endowment grant

New Hanover County applied for a portion of funds from the New Hanover County Endowment grant but turned it down, as the department did not seek county manager approval. (Port City Daily/file)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Out of 110 recipients that received money in the first round of funding from the New Hanover County Endowment, one entity turned down its grant.

New Hanover County’s Department of Social Services applied for a $100,000 grant from the endowment — established with $1.25 billion in proceeds of the New Hanover Regional Medical Center hospital sale to Novant.

READ MORE: 110 nonprofits receive $9M in first tranche of NHC Endowment funds

About one-third of nearly 300 applicants received funding, including public entities such as the City of Wilmington’s parks and recreation department, the Wilmington Fire Department and UNCW. However, upon the announcement the New Hanover County Department of Social Services would receive $100,000 on Dec. 9, county manager Chris Coudriet sent a letter to the endowment CEO William Buster three days later noting the money could be better spent at area nonprofits.

“[While] the county can apply for funding from the endowment for important programs and services, as outlined in the asset purchase agreement, my hope is that we can limit those direct funding requests as much as possible, especially in the first years of your existence,” Coudriet wrote.

Coudriet explained he intended to withdraw the application prior to the awards being decided, but the letter served as his formal denial of the funds.

The letter goes on to state moving forward “any funding requests [the endowment] receives from New Hanover County are governed and guided at the direction of the Board of Commissioners and submitted as part of a deliberate, thorough process that is tied to the county’s strategic plan.”

While not all grants need commissioners’ approval, the program must align with their goals. Grants do require a vote by the board if they come with a matching fund, if new positions would be created, if the program would need future budgeted money to continue or if it were a multi-year award.

Based on the criteria, the applied for grant would not have needed board of commissioner approval.

The county’s grant application and management policy, established Jan. 31, 2013, encourages departments to pursue grant funding as alternative revenue streams. It also states programs and projects proposed for grant funding “should be consistent with the county’s service goals, objectives and priorities.”

The policy requires department heads to receive approval from the county manager to apply, prior to submitting for a grant. 

Coudriet wrote in a statement to Port City Daily that DSS developed and submitted its request “without awareness of the manager’s office.”

However, county spokesperson Jessica Loeper confirmed it did receive approval from the finance department, as is protocol.

The department asked for $100,000 to go toward its adult protective services program to assist clients with personal hygiene items, food and clothing. The initiative, overseen by social workers, provides services to disabled adults, 18 years and older, who are alleged to be abused, neglected, or exploited and in need of protection.

The team provides support, prevention and intervention for seniors to stay in their homes and decrease the likelihood they are placed in nursing homes or other facilities of higher care.

It currently has 160 adults under its guardianship, with another 105 receiving in-home aid. The agency receives on average 100 reports monthly of abused, neglected and exploited seniors.

Loeper explained the adult protective services receives funding from the county, state and feds for specific programs and services.

Last fiscal year, the social services department had a $45.9 million budget. The fiscal year 2022-2023 budget allocates $41.8 million to DSS, an 8.9% decrease.

The adult protective services program received a little over $2 million this year, with about half coming from the county and the rest from state and federal funds.

While Coudriet said he was unaware of the department’s needs at the time, the county is now exploring ways to use county revenue to fund the items.

“In my opinion, that is the best approach versus crowding out the nonprofit community in this year’s grant process,” Coudriet wrote to PCD.

While the application was submitted without his approval, he said he appreciates the “aim” of the staff.

The county said it will be updating its grant policy in the coming months to include specifics as it relates to the community endowment.

Based on internal emails obtained by Port City Daily, it appears the Department of Health and Human Services department also planned to apply for funding through the endowment, but decided to hold off a year since recipient awards were capped at $250,000 this round. 

“Given that we will be asking for staff in our request, I have decided that we will wait until next year to apply so that our plan can be well thought-out and put together in a holistic fashion,” HHS director Donna Fayko wrote to HHS business officer Kelley Davis and public health equity coordinator Fawn Rhodes.

However, when Rhodes asked if permission would be needed to apply, health director David Howard said “yes.”

“But I’ll leave it to Donna to determine if we request approval from CM’s office to apply pending BOC approval as we did last time,” Howard wrote Sept. 23.

The New Hanover County Endowment — the largest nonprofit in the county — doled out more than $9 million in its inaugural grant-funding cycle. Recipients are slated to receive checks by Dec. 31.

In 2023, the endowment will hold two grant cycles, increase staffing and improve upon its four priority areas: community safety, health and social equity, public education and community development. Additional details will be announced in the coming months, according to Buster.

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