July 2022

Red, White & Boom got some of Franklin County’s federal COVID relief money

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Nathanial Shuda
June 30, 2022

Spectators will be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of Red, White & Boom! on Friday thanks, in part, to $50,000 in taxpayer-funded COVID relief money from Franklin County.

The event is one of 45 projects to which Franklin County commissioners have distributed more than $70 million, more than a quarter of their $256 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds since the beginning of the pandemic, a review by The Dispatch found.

Erica Crawley, president of the board of commissioners, said the contribution to Ohio’s largest fireworks display was small — less than 1% of the total federal COVID relief money spent by the county so far. But she said it highlights the commissioners’ commitment to supporting the physical and mental health of county residents during the pandemic.

Erica Crawley
“People have been isolated for two years. That is good for physical health (and) mental health,” Crawley said Tuesday of the expenditure toward Red White & Boom during an interview with The Dispatch. “We all have just been isolated.”

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Job & Family Services tops list of recipients
The Dispatch review of the county’s COVID relief spending data through Tuesday, found that almost half of that money — nearly $33.2 million — went through the county’s Job & Family Services Department. That includes:

$22.3 million to Action for Children for the county’s RISE program. The initiative provides early learning scholarships, incentive pay for child care programs and rental assistance for child care workers who have been underpaid.

$4.5 million to Per Scholas, a Columbus technology training firm, for the Tech Women of Color initiative, which will provide 15 weeks of “technical skills training, executive mentoring, financial coaching” to 200 women of color, starting in July and running through August 2024.
$1.5 million each for Roads2Work, a commercial driver’s license training program, and the PRC Plus Rental Assistance Program, which provides one-time rental assistance payments for eligible families struggling to meet rent or facing eviction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Familiar nonprofits tapped to distribute aid
More than a quarter of the funding — $20.3 million — went to community partners such as the Mid-Ohio Food Collective, which received $7 million as part of the Rooted in You campaign to end hunger in the region, and the Community Funding Initiative, which received $5 million “to provide economic support to nonprofit organizations to cover lost revenue or increased expenditures due to the pandemic.”

Another community partner, Impact Community Action, benefitted from multiple grants, including nearly $331,000 for the Otto Beatty Jr. Men’s Shop intended to help men dress for success in job interviews, and another $340,000 for the Family Housing Stability Navigator pilot program.

Impact Community Action CEO Robert “Bo” Chilton, left, and Nehemiah House of Refuge Executive Director Terry Byrd, right, pose with professional menswear May 12 at the Otto Beatty Jr. Men’s Shop.
“Impact has been our greatest partner,” said Jenny Snapp, chief operating officer of Franklin County Economic Development & Planning. “We know who’s spending the dollars, so we want to give them the money. … They’ve got the system in place to get the funds out there.”

Crawley agreed that it’s more efficient for the county to use Impact Community Action and the Columbus Urban League because the county already has relationships with those nonprofits.

“We don’t have to recreate the wheel,” Crawley said.

Not only do they have the infrastructure to administer the grants, but also the capability of handling the federal reporting requirements, Crawley said.

Franklin County Administrator Kenneth Wilson
Investing in the future
Such partnerships are key and allow officials to focus on creating sustainable opportunities to effect lasting change, County Administrator Kenneth Wilson said Tuesday in an interview with The Dispatch.

“We need to be strategic in the opportunities that we make,” Wilson said, highlighting funding for the county’s Building Futures Pre-Apprenticeship Program, a 12-week program that teaches construction skills and safety training to underserved communities.

“That is that kind of generational investment we’re looking for,” he said.

Cynthia Hard, of Bexley, left, gets her hands on a circular saw, while Courtney Grisby, of the West Side, watches April 27 during a Building Futures class.
Even before the pandemic, the county already faced a multitude of issues, from a housing crisis to racial and gender disparities when it comes to workforce development and training, Crawley said.

“A lot of these issues were there before the pandemic, and the pandemic exacerbated that,” she said.

Meanwhile, the county’s Economic Development & Planning Department handed out $12.3 million (17.4% of county COVID funds), including:

$4.5 million to the Wells Foundation for the Columbus-Franklin County Small Business Recovery Grant Program.
$3 million to Franklin County Stadium Inc. to “offset negative economic impact to support Huntington Park and staff of the Clippers,” both of which the county owns.
$1.1 million to the Columbus Urban League to support the Minority Small Business Resiliency Initiative and the county’s Community Equity Fund.

In addition to Red, White & Boom! and Franklin County Stadium Inc., the county also spent $1.5 million on other aid to tourism, travel and hospitality recipients, including:

$1.25 million for the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority to “provide enhanced safety and health improvements” to Nationwide Arena and the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
$14,000 to Stonewall Columbus for its Pride Community Festival & Resource Fair.

Unlike other counties and municipalities around the country, Franklin County doesn’t use a matrix to help determine which projects or causes get funding. Instead, the county uses its usual budget process, its 2019 Rise Together blueprint to reduce poverty and feedback from community town halls and stakeholder groups as a guide, Crawley said.

“Everything that we’re doing is reflected in what the community says they need,” she said.

Dispatch reporters Micah Walker and Erica Thompson contributed to this report.

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