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To the rescue: Legislators restore $8.7 million in funding to nonprofits

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DOVER — The Joint Finance Committee Tuesday opted to restore a cut of $8.7 million in nonprofit funding, bringing the total of the draft grant-in-aid bill to $45.9 million.

The proposal, which is expected to be voted on by the full General Assembly Saturday, the last regularly scheduled day of the legislative session, would undo a change made last year and provide funding at the same level for the fiscal year ended July 1, 2017.

“The weight is lifted off my shoulders,” Modern Maturity Center President and CEO Carolyn Fredricks said.

Through grant-in-aid, JFC annually gives state funding to hundreds of nonprofits, ranging from fire companies to senior centers to museums, considered to offer important services to Delawareans. Last year, facing a projected gap between revenues and spending and unable to come to an agreement on tax increases, legislators reduced the amount to $37.2 million.

The move was, predictably, unpopular with many people and left nonprofits worried they would struggle to make ends meet.

Gov. John Carney in January proposed funding grant-in-aid to the tune of $41.7 million, but as revenue collections continued to grow over the ensuing five months, the likelihood of full restoration rose.

Lawmakers still plan to make minor changes, such as increasing the total or shifting some money away from certain nonprofits and to others, depending in part on what happens with other bills.

“We’ve got to figure out where we are numberwise, and then where we are with revenue and then we’ll make adjustments as necessary,” co-chair Rep. Melanie George Smith, D-Bear, said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Fully restoring grant-in-aid was not a hard decision, she said.

While Gov. Carney has said JFC members “should be careful about what they restore,” Rep. George Smith and co-chair Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, both feel applicants receive plenty of scrutiny.

Rep. Mike Ramone, R-Pike Creek Valley, had a similar concern, asking if officials are able to closely screen every organization seeking state money and if the Legislature needs to hire anyone to focus specifically on applications. Jackie Griffith, chief of fiscal policy and analysis for the Controller General’s Office, replied that budget analysts have time to carefully review applications and make site visits over the summer.

“We don’t have any concerns as far as that,” she told lawmakers.

The restoration was enthusiastically embraced by nonprofit representatives at Legislative Hall, some of whom broke out into applause after JFC unanimously endorsed it.

“I think that they are jumping up and down for joy because this is for some agencies very significant funding that does really important work out in the community and to hear the unanimous support of reinstatement is something that we know our members are going to be thrilled with,” Sheila Bravo, president and CEO of the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, said.

Calling Tuesday “a great day for nonprofits in the state,” Ms. Fredricks said the funding decision will reduce the pressure on the Modern Maturity Center and others.

Also included in the proposal is an increase in the reimbursement rate for the county paramedic programs, effectively saving the three counties a combined $2.2 million. Lawmakers last year altered the county-state split from 70-30 to 76-24, costing Kent County about $380,000 more this fiscal year.

Tuesday’s vote undoes that.

“It’s a big help to get that grant back in normal order,” Kent County Administrator Mike Petit de Mange said, noting public safety consumes the biggest chunk of the county budget.

It appears that, against the wishes of some legislators, grant-in-aid will remain under the purview of JFC.

A bill that would create a new committee to analyze and dole out grant-in-aid funding has been awaiting a vote in the Senate for more than five months after passing the House unanimously. However, Sen. McDowell said it is unlikely to be approved by the Senate.

“It creates an unnecessary group,” he said. “It’s the same thing. It’d just be a new group.”