Warren County Board of Supervisors awards ARPA funds to local organizations

Published 4:28 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2022

The Warren County Board of Supervisors publicly awarded more than $280,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to local organizations during its Monday meeting, and formally rejected requests from other organizations.

Seven local organizations were on the agenda for a vote to either receive or be denied ARPA funds. Two organizations were approved, three were rejected, and two requests were tabled.

United Way of West Central Mississippi was awarded $266,900 in ARPA funds, to be split into two payments of $133,450 a year over the next two years. Good Shepherd Community Center was awarded $16,800, to be split into two payments of $8,400 a year over the next two years.

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“Two of the programs that were approved, one is a tutoring program administered by United Way but in partnership with a vast number of organizations in the county. Sherman Avenue Elementary has 103 students enrolled through this program and the Vicksburg Warren School District approved the program, sponsoring it at the school,” said Board President Kelle Barfield. “It’s a fantastic program with an opportunity to expand, and if there’s any organization that has an interest in post-COVID educational enhancement programs, they can call United Way of West Central Mississippi, and the United Way will arrange an interest meeting.”

Over the course of the ARPA funding applications, many groups in Warren County identified the need for tutoring.

Good Shepherd Community Center, on the other hand, is an example of a group’s request that was combined with a need in the county.

“Good Shepherd had earlier made a request for $100,000, and very recently Warren County Youth Court Judge Marcie Southerland identified a need for mentors,” Barfield said. “It was determined that Good Shepherd could implement this program with $16,800, significantly less than the original request.”

The three organizations the supervisors rejected for ARPA funds were the Vicksburg YMCA, which requested $50,000; the Peni Center, which requested $15,000; and the Percy Strothers Foundation, which requested $20,000 dispersed over two years.

On all three rejections, Supervisors Edward Herring (District 1), William Banks (District 2) and Barfield (District 5) were the dissenting votes.

District 3 Supervisor Shawn Jackson was vocal with her displeasure with the rejections, stating the amounts requested for two of them were small in comparison to the more than $8 million in ARPA funds awarded to Warren County.

“I think that was a worthy program to help young women, by (Vicksburg Police) Chief Penny Jones,” Jackson said of the rejection of the Peni Center’s request. “And the amount of money that we’ve given thus far through ARPA, that’s a small amount to positively impact young women in the community.”

Of the rejection of the Percy Strothers Foundation’s request, Jackson noted that it was the only request the county received to fund scholarships through ARPA.

“With $8 million, I think $20,000 to help pay for education is a very small amount compared to what we’ve committed to already,” she said.

Requests that were rejected were turned down for a variety of reasons, Barfield said. Chief among those reasons was the newfound flexibility the county has in terms of how ARPA funds can be used.

When the first information sessions for those interested in ARPA funding were held in late 2021, the guidelines for use of the funds were not clear. However, the U.S. Department of the Treasury handed down its guidelines in January of this year, which changed things, Barfield said.

“A key part of this is remembering that, when we saw input on community needs last fall, we were under the impression that there would be considerable restrictions on the use of the dollars,” she said. “In January, the U.S. Treasury issued its final rulemaking allowing us to use the money on roads, bridges, county facilities, county programs. So, doing things as much as possible countywide became a priority for me.”

In addition to the requests that were approved or rejected, two requests were tabled for further discussion: The Medgar & Angela Scott Foundation’s request for $350,000 and King of Kings Christian Center’s request for $250,000, which would provide “tutoring for the hearing-impaired and others.”

Barfield said the items were tabled for a few reasons.

“A couple of programs were tabled that were originally on the agenda, because I personally had follow-up questions that could help inform and shape programs for potential approval, but I just wasn’t there yet (on Monday),” she said. “They were substantial, which is another reason why it warranted further discussion. If a dollar amount was high, that’s a far better opportunity to see how their programs and resources might help satisfy needs that we feel like we have here in Warren County.”

The county has until 2024 to allocate all of its ARPA funds, and Barfield said the board intends to make the most of that time. The programs that were rejected should not lose hope, she said.

“Let me emphasize, (a rejection) does not mean that we would never find an opportunity to work with them in the future. It’s just that particular program and dollar-amount request that we are giving them certainty by saying, ‘not at this time,'” she said. “These are all valuable services. It did not have to do necessarily with the duplication of services; it had to do with us having the flexibility now to use the funds on countywide needs including roads and facilities.”