City and nonprofit leaders overseeing Baltimore’s multi-million-dollar Children and Youth Fund say the program’s work continues despite hiccups and that the next round of funding, delayed in recent months, will be awarded shortly.
“We want money to go out the door,” said Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who helped conceptualize and capitalize the Youth Fund in his former role as City Council president. “We don’t want the money sitting in a treasury or anything like that when grassroots organizations can have that money to do the things they need to do for our youth.”
Young said there have been “some little kinks,” some related to the sheer scope of the work required to disburse so much funding, but he is optimistic those running the fund are overcoming the issues.
Dayvon Love, the Youth Fund’s coordinator of community outreach, agreed there have been "a lot of things that have disrupted the progress of the Youth Fund” in its first year — some political, others related to the fund’s departure from traditional methods of grant giving in the city.
But he said organizers with Associated Black Charities, the group selected to run the fund, are turning a corner.
Associated Black Charities allocated about $9.6 million to 84 organizations doing work with kids in the program’s first year. Many of those groups are completing final reports on their first-year work and starting to apply for second-year funding. Many are seeking the same amount of funding, though others have learned from their first-year work and have adjusted their funding requests accordingly, Love said.
For those whose reports show they complied with the program’s requirements in the first year, second-year funding could be issued soon, Love said.
Apart from disbursing funds, organizers also are working on building the framework for a new entity that will run the program after Associated Black Charities’ limited contract expires, Love said.
Associated Black Charities, for which he serves as a contractor, intends to provide a “comprehensive update” to the City Council on the Youth Fund’s status at the end of October or early November, Love said.
City Council President Brandon Scott said the Youth Fund represents a “paradigm shifting approach” to grant making in the city, so “you could expect some bumps and bruises.”
But he said he doesn’t think the problems will continue, and the council will continue to monitor the program carefully.
“Our job is to hold them accountable,” he said.
Voters approved the fund’s creation by referendum in 2016, guaranteeing it a portion of the city’s tax revenue each year.
The fact that second-year funding has not gone out already has drawn concern from some youth advocates and grant-seekers in the city, who worry the funds are not being put to use at a time of great need.
Concerns were heightened when an audit this summer, launched in the wake of the “Healthy Holly” scandal that resulted in the resignation of Young’s predecessor Catherine Pugh, found that Associated Black Charities couldn’t demonstrate it had distributed the funds in a “fair and transparent" way.
The audit was launched after it was revealed that Associated Black Charities had collected nearly $90,000 from five separate entities to buy and distribute 10,000 copies of Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” children’s books. Pugh also took hundreds of thousands of dollars for her books from the University of Maryland Medical System, where she sat on the board, and from Kaiser Permanente, which had business with the city. Pugh is now the subject of multiple state and federal investigations.
The audit did not find undue political influence in how Associated Black Charities managed the fund, and the organization denied it had failed to adequately document its grant making process. City leaders voted to extend the group’s oversight of the fund before the audit was concluded.
The audit and a separate malware attack on the city’s systems earlier this year both contributed to slowing down the Youth Fund’s work, officials said. But Love said that other factors also were at play.
A big one was the fact that grant making in Baltimore has traditionally favored big, established organizations that do not necessarily reflect the communities they are meant to serve, Love said, and that didn’t match the Youth Fund’s stated goal of prioritizing racial equity and community input in selecting grant recipients.
In just one example, some insurance brokers balked at writing policies for the smaller community organizations that the Youth Fund selected to receive funding, which forced organizers to get involved to help find brokers who would provide coverage and ultimately slowed the process, Love said.
“One of the things that we recognized is that many of the systems we’re having to navigate do not lend themselves to innovation and the kind of grant making that the youth fund would like to do,” he said. “It’s not something that is obvious to people as a barrier, but was one of the things that [we learned with] the Youth Fund, and one of the things that in year two we will be able to be more deliberate in addressing.”