Nearly $50 million in state grants are not reaching nonprofits that need them to run programs due to bureaucratic delays and missing wording in the state budget bill .
The process and paperwork to access these funds has also been slow for some organizations, said nonprofit employees.
The Legislature changed the process this year and funneled all grant money into a single state office to oversee. Previously, funds were spread across the state government to work directly with nonprofits. Silver generally became available in July.
There are also concerns that language in the state budget bill passed by lawmakers earlier this year did not specify what money would be earmarked for grants, which could also complicate the process.
Whatever the cause, the effect is certain: programs to help people with disabilities, to renovate parts of Chinatown, to help child victims of sexual violence, and dozens of other initiatives cannot begin because the money is not yet available for non-profit organizations.
It is not yet known when this money could be available. Nonprofits contacted for this story described being at various stages of completing paperwork.
The state Office of Community Services, which oversees more than $49 million in grants this year, did not return a call seeking comment on the story.
“It’s hard to pin the blame on any one individual,” said En Young, executive director of the Pacific Gateway Center and former head of the SCO. “There are a lot of moving parts.”
The problems started with this year’s budget bill, House Bill 1600. In years past, bills allocating money for state grants contained a key line, repeated for each of the dozens of awards, which stated that the money was earmarked “as a grant”. pursuant to Section 42F,” referring to the State Grants Act. This line is missing from the final language of HB 1600.
The legislature also changed the way grant funds are distributed. In the past, grants were awarded to various state departments to oversee funding and work with nonprofit organizations in their areas.
The Office of Hawaiian Affairs has worked with Hawaiian organizations. The Attorney General’s office worked with legal and law enforcement organizations. The Ministry of Agriculture has worked with non-profit organizations supporting farmers.
This year, all grant funds, and therefore the responsibility for overseeing them, have been transferred to the Community Services Office.
The office’s budget has grown from $2 million annually to over $51 million this year. Most of these funds are grant funds, according to the budget documents.
Typically, after the legislature awards a grant, there are follow-up paperwork that a nonprofit must complete. The department overseeing the grant must also request the State Department of Budget and Finance to release these funds.
Even after a contract is signed and money is actually released to the nonprofit, a rigorous grant tracking process ensues, which requires additional follow-up between the department and the nonprofit. lucrative.
All of these tasks apparently now fall to OCS. The legislature also increased the number of office staff from four to 10, but it is unclear how many new staff were hired.
Young, who oversaw the office, said workers already had duties there beyond just overseeing grant awards. These rights may also have increased as the administration prepares to change hands in December.
Some nonprofits have only recently received part of the tracking materials to continue with the grant award process.
Sandra Pohl, executive director of the Downtown Art Center, said her organization just received some of those materials last week.
The arts center has received $150,000 to help it hire staff as part of an effort to grow the arts community around Chinatown.
She said “it looks like we’re on the right track,” but wasn’t sure if or when the funding might arrive.
Cara Short, executive director of AccessSurf Hawaii, and her staff are making their first foray into the state grant process. The nonprofit previously applied for grants from the city and county of Honolulu.
AccesSurf Hawaii organizes adapted water sports programs for people with disabilities. It has lost some of its volunteers who help run these programs during the pandemic and has had to train new ones or retrain returnees.
The organization received $150,000 for a volunteer training program, but the program has not yet started.
“We were already hoping to get the ball rolling,” Short said. “We thought it would be in place in the fall so we can ramp up and get ready for next year.”
Even without the new state funds, Short said the organization still ran its water sports programs.
“We were just hoping it would come a little sooner,” she said of the scholarships.