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The city of Lakeland will advance a languishing request by Talbot House Ministries to help pay for two new boilers the nonprofit had to install last year when its existing system failed by using money from a $50,000 U.S. Housing & Urban Development block grant.
Talbot House, a major provider of services for the homeless in Lakeland, last year applied for reimbursement for the new boilers from allocations received to assist nonprofits from the March 2020 $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, known as CARES.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was substantially revised on Jan. 26 after city Housing Programs Supervisor Annie Gibson provided new details about the funding sources.
Talbot House was approved for several CARES Act allocations, including $900,000 through Polk County to enlarge its dining area and a $50,000 HUD CDBG grant issued through the city to hire a mental health counselor.
But the $60,000 request for reimbursement for the new boilers has not been approved because Lakeland, like many local governments nationwide, had to hire a consultant to ascertain what CRF allocations are permitted under U.S. Treasury guidance from the CARES Act and from the March 2021 $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, known as ARPA.
And like many local governments nationwide, there is hesitancy among Lakeland officials to release all CARES Act and ARPA monies because of late, and often contradictory, federal guidance.
The delay in disbursing assistance dollars from the federal relief and stimulus packages surfaced during the Lakeland City Commission’s Jan. 18 meeting when Commissioner Stephanie Madden said Talbot House was forced to use its limited operational funding to make a first payment on the boilers and “is coming up against a hard deadline” for a second payment.
“I’m a little cranky about how long it is taking to get those funds,” Madden said. “Talbot House is breaking out with another omicron spread among residents and staff and they still are desperate to make second payment for that boiler. They were required to put the first payment down because we would not agree to release any funds as they really needed them and wanted to wait for our consultant to tell us how to give out those funds appropriately.”
Talbot House’s need was urgent months ago and that hasn’t changed, she said. “I want to remind our team that Talbot House has made several requests for those dollars. We need to get the funds as quickly as possible to people who are needy,” she said.
But granting the request could put the city at risk, Madden feared. “There’s good reason to be cautious in regard to how we give away those funds,” she said. “You have to cross every ’t’ and dot every ‘I’ or we could be liable for the those funds, and (the federal government) could claw them back.”
Three days later, Lakeland City Manager Shawn Sherrouse said rather than wait up to eight weeks for the city’s consultant to determine if the allocation complies with federal guidance, the nonprofit can use the $50,000 HUD CDBG award that remains unspent to pay for the two new boilers.
Unlike CARES Act CRF money that was required by the U.S. Treasury to be “expended” by Dec. 31, 2021, HUD CDBG awards under the CARES Act don’t need to be spent until Dec. 31, 2023.
Lakeland Housing Office Programs Supervisor Annie Gibson explained Wednesday that the angst about CRF deadlines and potential federal “clawbacks” was unnecessary because the $50,000 HUD CDBG grant comes from a “different pot of money” and can be used by Talbot House to handle a housing-related emergency rather than for a mental health counselor.
The revised HUD CDBG allocation was already in the works when Madden addressed the issue during the commission meeting, Gibson said.
“What Talbot House did was ask for a change in scope” in how it wanted to use the money, she said, noting the $50,000 is “already in the budget and can be reallocated for the boilers because it is an emergency” and fits under HUD’s classifications as a “COVID-related item.”
The ministry “would have to pay for it first and send us the receipts for reimbursement,” Gibson explained. “Attached to all federal HUD funds there are rules and regulations we have to follow. All this is proper. All the rules were followed, just for a different” type of grant through HUD rather than CARES Act allocations from the U.S. Treasury.
Talbot House Director of Development Erin Martinez on Monday thanked Madden for raising the issue on the nonprofit’s behalf and said the ministry is grateful the city is expediting its “change of scope” amendment to be reimbursed for purchasing the new boilers.
When Talbot House’s boiler system failed, the shelter could not provide hot water for showers and meals — lifelines for homeless people — and, therefore, had little choice but to have two new 85-gallon boilers installed for $60,000, she said.
Talbot House Ministries of Lakeland Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that operates a homeless shelter, a transitional affordable housing program, a Good Samaritan Free Clinic that treats more than 3,200 people annually, a food pantry and kitchen that serves 300 meals each day.
The multi-denominational ministry is dealing with a COVID omicron variant outbreak, Madden said last week but Martinez said Monday that the virus isn’t the biggest strain on Lakeland’s homeless or on Talbot House right now.
“We’ve been seeing a slight increase” in people coming in for meals and shelter “because of the cold weather, which is not unusual for this time of year,” Martinez said. “We’re seeing 100-120 people a night.”
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