City sluggish in distributing health grant, establishing emergency fund

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 4/7/2022, 11 p.m.
The City of Richmond last year was awarded a $4 million federal grant to improve health literacy in Black and …

The City of Richmond last year was awarded a $4 million federal grant to improve health literacy in Black and Latinx sections of the city.

Seeking to put the money to use, City Council in mid-December gave its approval to Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s plan to distribute $1.156 million of the grant to Virginia Union University and seven community nonprofits.

The goal, according to the city, is to use the money to empower residents in the city’s most vulnerable communities “to protect and advocate for their own health” through programs that would offer culturally relevant, relationship-based peer education and support.

But four months later, despite the organizations returning signed contracts, none of the money has been distributed to the organizations that were selected for their strong ties to the targeted communities and their ability to work with the residents.

City Hall remains mum. Free Press queries about the delay in the distribution of the funds, as well as queries from representatives of the organizations, have gone unanswered, raising questions about the internal grant management process.

The issue is broader than the grant. Another example is a promised city emergency fund to help people with small amounts of money to pay emergency bills.

During a City Council committee meeting on Monday, 5th District Councilwoman Stephanie A. Lynch voiced concern about the time it is taking to set up an emergency fund to assist people who need small amounts of money to stave off eviction, get a car repaired or take care of other household crises.

She voiced her disappointment that only $1 million of the federal American Rescue Plan funds the city has received had been set aside for this program, even though she said the ARP money was supposed to be used to help people who are still suffering financial distress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ms. Lynch also expressed frustration about the city’s failure to show a sense of urgency in getting the emergency fund set up. The city, she noted, received the first half of the ARP money nearly a year ago but has yet to establish the fund.

She said she is constantly meeting people or getting phone calls seeking limited financial help but she cannot refer them because the program is still not operational.

City Budget Director Jason P. May said the city is working to ensure the program meets strict federal rules and regulations, but he acknowledged the program’s start could still be months away.

On the health grant, the lion’s share, or $545,000, is earmarked to be spent with VUU’s Center for Health Equity & Empowerment Research, which was chosen to develop a process to evaluate and support the community engagement efforts.

The other groups include Community 50/50, which is to receive $88,000 to support its community mentoring activity, and Kinfolk Community Empowerment Center, which is to receive $103,000 to support its plans to create gardens in several East End public housing communities and to hire 64 youths and adults in those communities to disseminate information and promote health.

Other organizations slated to receive funding from the health grant are La Casa de la Salud, or House of Health, which is to receive $87,000 to support its mission of improving access and increasing health information in Spanish-speaking communities, and Nolef Turns Inc., which is to receive $97,000 to improve health among people accused or convicted of a crime.

Also, the Richmond City Health District, which is to receive $70,000 to support its health information and equity work; the Sacred Heart Center in South Richmond, which is to receive $89,500 to support its health outreach; and the Waymakers Foundation, which is to receive $76,800 to support its efforts as a Latino-focused food relief organization.