Eyewitness News Investigates, Local News, News, Politics, Ted Nesi

RI grant program tied to Gallison cut nearly in half

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Former Rep. Ray Gallison’s final act as House Finance Committee chairman may have been inadvertently costing hundreds of organizations their state-funded community-service grants.

The grants, which total $11.6 million this year, are taxpayer checks directed by lawmakers to specific groups. But they have come under heavy scrutiny and criticism since Gallison’s sudden resignation amid a law-enforcement probe, after it emerged that a nonprofit he ran had received more than $2 million in such grants but was providing inaccurate board member names to state officials.

House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed announced an overhaul of the program this week in response to the Gallison scandal. Previously the names of the grant recipients had not emerged until after the budget was signed into law, when the two finance committee chairmen sent a letter to state agencies instructing them how to distribute the money.

Now, however, roughly 200 of the grants are gone – and the 25 that remain are being spelled out transparently as line items in the actual budget bill. The final list emerged around 1 a.m. early Wednesday, just before the House Finance Committee approved a newly unveiled revised state budget. The bottom line: the program’s funding has been cut from $11.6 million to $6.1 million, a 47% reduction.

In addition to the direct line items for the groups whose funding survived – or even grew – lawmakers created a handful of new pools of money that will be distributed through competitive grant programs: $400,000 for senior centers, $200,000 for veterans services, $200,000 for the arts and $50,000 for elderly nutrition.

One obscure community-service grant was also added to the list: $200,000 for a drainage restoration project on Elliot Avenue in North Providence. It was not immediately clear why this project was funded when so much else wasn’t, but the town has at least one powerful advocate in the General Assembly: Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio represents North Providence. The same project already received a $200,000 grant in the current year’s budget.

Ruggerio told Eyewitness News he’s been fielding complaints about “severe” drainage problems in the affected area for about 10 years. But when the town received $200,000 from the Department of Environmental Management to fix drainage issues there and along Woonaquatucket Avenue, all the money went to the latter project only, he said.

Ruggerio said he led the North Providence delegation in pushing for the $200,000 grant to be included on the slimmed-down list of grants. “Hopefully we’ll put the whole situation to bed,” he said.

Among the many groups that lost their funding with the sharp reduction in grants: the United Way Summer Education Program ($250,000), the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence ($215,188), the Institute for Labor Studies & Research ($191,444), the Rhode Island Service Alliance ($94,500), the Vietnam Veterans Association ($62,437), the Blackstone Valley Community Health Center ($57,713), Rhode Island Communities for Addiction Recovery Efforts ($50,000), the Urban League ($25,012) and Operation Stand Down ($15,000).

Mary Lou Moran, who runs the Leon Mathieu Senior Center in Pawtucket that’s losing a $29,000 grant, said she plans to apply for money from the new pool of senior-center funding, but is worried about the loss of funding. “It’s of concern,” Moran told Eyewitness News. “These grants are vital to our operation. It’s critical.”

Jessica Barry of the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, which is losing a $40,000 grant, said the group is looking at how to make up the gap, saying it could effect caseworkers. However, she noted that Dorcas has some other means of funding itself.

Unsurprisingly, two grants tied to Gallison did not survive: $70,875 for his nonprofit, Alternative Educational Programming Inc., and $30,000 for an affiliated group, Man Up, which had been added after Gallison took over the budget process.

But another big grant tied to a lawmaker did make the select group of survivors: the $300,000 grant to the John Hope Settlement House, a troubled nonprofit chaired by Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence. John Hope’s grant, the fifth-largest provided, was added to the budget in 2013, and the new allocation will mean the nonprofit has received $1.15 million from the program over four years.

Here’s the full list of 25 groups who will receive direct appropriations in the budget:

• Meals on Wheels: $530,000
• Rhode Island Community Action: $520,000
• WaterFire: $375,000
• Children’s Crusade/College Crusade: $355,000
• Crossroads Rhode Island: $300,000
• John Hope Settlement House: $300,000
• Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence: $300,000
• Boys and Girls Club of Rhode Island: $250,000
• Polaris Manufacturing Extension Program: $250,000
• URI Small Business Development Center: $250,000
• Child Opportunity Zones: $245,000
• Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program: $230,000
• Day One: $217,000
• North Providence Drainage Remediation (Elliot Avenue): $200,000
• Rhode Island Community Food Bank: $175,000
• Diocese of Providence Respite Care: $140,000
• Rhode Island Historical Society: $125,000
• Hasbro Children’s Hospital: $90,000
• Rhode Island Legal Services: $90,000
• Elderly Security & Abuse: $85,000
• City Year: $50,000
• Special Olympics: $50,000
• Alliance for Better Long Term Care: $40,000
• Best Buddies: $30,000
• Fort Adams Trust: $30,000

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes The Saturday Morning Post and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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