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Baltimore elected officials, including Democratic City Councilman Zeke Cohen, are concerned about the management of a multimillion-dollar fund earmarked for local youth organizations.
Baltimore elected officials, including Democratic City Councilman Zeke Cohen, are concerned about the management of a multimillion-dollar fund earmarked for local youth organizations.

Baltimore elected officials say they are concerned about the management of a multimillion-dollar fund earmarked for local youth organizations.

The city’s Children and Youth Fund was created to funnel taxpayer dollars toward grassroots organizations that work with young people. Associated Black Charities, which was selected to manage the fund, announced the first round of 84 grantees in August 2018, awarding them $9.6 million.

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But Democratic City Councilman Zeke Cohen said some that won grants still have not received the full amount they were promised.

Additionally, he said, several organizations say they’ve been left in the dark about when the second round of funding will come — even though more than 16 months have passed since the initial awards, and groups are counting on more money.

“There cannot be any delays when it comes to improving the lives of our children," Cohen wrote Thursday in a letter to Associated Black Charities’ CEO Diane Bell-McKoy. “Many of these youth-serving organizations are continuing to work in good faith, with the hope that funding will be approved soon. However, some simply cannot continue to service our children without these funds.”

In a statement Thursday night, Associated Black Charities said only three grantees in the original group had not yet received the full disbursement.

“We have been working with them for multiple months to resolve their financial documentation issues,” Associated Black Charities said.

Representatives from the mayor’s office, Cohen and other city leaders met privately Thursday with Bell-McCoy. Lester Davis, the mayor’s spokesman, said Associated Black Charities agreed to provide the city a schedule by Tuesday for distributing more grants.

Young on Friday requested the City Council’s Education and Youth Committee hold an oversight hearing soon to provide a public update.

“There needs to be an urgency as it relates to getting funding out the door,” Davis said. “We get that it’s difficult and onerous and a lot of work. But the message from the mayor is clear: While it is tough, that cannot be an impediment to getting dollars swiftly out the door.”

The charity said it is mindful of the need for urgency and accountability.

“We plan to work expeditiously with the grantees to move them into Year Two funding, while also ensuring that they meet the continued city and state compliance requirements," its statement read. "This will occur on a rolling basis over the next 30 days, until each grantee has gone through the process and received their initial Year Two funding.”

Youth advocates have raised concerns for months about delays regarding the next round of funding allocations. According to Cohen, groups were led to believe this fall that they would receive a second year of funding equivalent to their initial allocation, as long as they successfully submitted financial reports.

Then, he said, in December “an email was sent to first-year grantees, indicating that no system was in place to disburse funds, and no clear next steps were in place.”

Dayvon Love, the Youth Fund’s coordinator of community outreach, acknowledged in October that there were "a lot of things that have disrupted the progress of the Youth Fund” in its first year.

The charity was entangled in a wide-ranging political 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, keeping $10,000 for itself. Pugh pleaded guilty in November to conspiracy and tax evasion charges related to her sales of the books.

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Young ordered an audit of the fund’s administration following the revelations that Associated Black Charities was connected to the “Healthy Holly” scandal. A city report determined that the nonprofit didn’t keep sufficient records to demonstrate that it gave out money in a way that was “fair and transparent.”

Before that audit was completed, a City Council committee voted to extend Associated Black Charities’ oversight of the youth fund. The city paid the organization $1.2 million to administer the first round of grants.

Davis noted said the fund is “rather groundbreaking in its approach,” so not all distribution structures were in place at the onset.

Voters approved the fund’s creation by referendum in 2016, guaranteeing a percentage of the city’s tax revenue each year would flow toward youth-focused, grassroots organizations. It is intended to provide funding for community-based, minority-led organizations that typically have been passed over for city funding, which tends to favor more well established groups.

Cohen said the fund’s mission is vital.

“Many of these organizations operate on very tight budgets and rely on every dollar they get to pay their staff and keep the lights on,” he said. “They’ve received insufficient communication on Year Two dollars."

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