More money from the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund is expected to begin flowing as early as next Friday, following months of delays that had some grassroots organizations worried about how they would stay afloat.
It’s been more than two years since the first grants were approved from the multimillion-dollar fund, which was designed to funnel taxpayer dollars toward community-based, minority-led organizations that work with young people — the kinds of small groups often overlooked by traditional philanthropy.
While city leaders and residents embraced the idea, frustrations mounted when an additional distribution of funding expected last fall did not come through at that time.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Councilman Zeke Cohen, both Democrats, sounded an alarm last month, saying there can’t be any delay when it comes to improving children’s lives. They promised to get answers on the fund’s status from Associated Black Charities, which manages the distribution of the money.
“We know this Youth Fund is critically important, but we know there have been challenges and stumbles along the way," said Cohen, chairman of the council’s education and youth committee, at an oversight hearing Thursday.
Diane Bell-McKoy, the CEO of Associated Black Charities, said her group is meeting with grantees now to move forward with the next phase of funding.
But, Bell-McKoy said, it’s been challenging to balance a need to ensure accountability for taxpayer dollars with the flexibility required to run this first-of-its-kind fund.
“Government doesn’t have any tolerance for mistakes,” she said. “Innovation means there will be mistakes.”
Associated Black Charities allocated $9.6 million to roughly 80 grantees in the fall of 2018.
Many of those groups believed they’d receive another year of funding, equivalent to their initial allocation, by last fall — as long as they successfully submitted financial reports. Several rely on the money to function.
But as fall turned to winter, no new funding came.
Bell-McKoy said applications to continue funding have gone out to roughly 50 of the original organizations, and Associated Black Charities is meeting with them to finalize the allocation of the continuation grants. She expects money will start going out next Friday to the first of those groups.
The organization ran into hurdles because several of the grantees lacked a traditional nonprofit infrastructure. Many of the chosen groups didn’t have experience with the kind of detailed financial reporting required. Bell-McKoy said that when the next round of grants go out, the organization will provide more technical assistance for grantees and ask for additional financial reporting.
But, as of July 1, Associated Black Charities will no longer manage the fund. Its role was always meant to be temporary. The organization is working with other groups to set up a permanent intermediary to run the fund.
Amid that transition, it’s unclear when a fresh round of grants — to a new set of organizations — will be possible.
“It’s time for another round of offerings," Democratic Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said. "We’ve got to get the money out the door.”
Voters approved the fund’s creation by referendum in 2016, guaranteeing that a percentage of the city’s tax revenue each year would flow toward youth-focused, grassroots organizations.
The city paid Associated Black Charities $1.2 million — 10% of the initial $12 million fund — to administer the first round of grants.
Associated Black Charities officials said that was insufficient for the amount of work needed to run the fund, and the rate must be increased to ensure long-term success.
The organization also faced other issues as it dealt with managing the youth fund.
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The charity was entangled in a wide-ranging scandal involving former Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh’s business dealings. Associated Black Charities collected nearly $90,000 from five entities to buy and distribute 10,000 copies of Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” children’s books, while keeping $10,000 for itself. Pugh pleaded guilty in November to federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges related to her sales of the books.
After the revelations, the city ordered an audit of the fund’s management, which did not mention any improper political influence over the way the charity distributed the money to community organizations.
A spokesman for Young, who pushed for the fund’s creation as council president, said the mayor remains supportive of it.
“Anything that is new and innovative is going to have challenges, and we just have to be committed to the work,” Lester Davis said.
At the council hearing, Youth Fund grantees testified on the importance of the money and what it enables them to do. They acknowledged the challenges of being part of the first cohort of grantees, but said the fund’s mission must continue.
Corey McDaniel founded Conscious Heads Barbering Boot Camp, which received about $18,000 from the youth fund. The apprenticeship program works with black boys and young men who can’t afford to attend traditional barbering school.
“We can learn from our mistakes," McDaniel said. “I can’t wait this year to approach it again.”