AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Four local nonprofit organizations were recently awarded American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from the city of Amarillo, aimed at providing services and support to the city’s senior citizen population. 

During Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Amarillo City Council, Catholic Charities, the Family Care Foundation, the United Way of Amarillo and Canyon along with the Wesley Community Center split $600,000 of the city’s ARPA funds allocated towards “senior citizen support.” This comes after the city began a bid process in August, giving nonprofits throughout the community the chance to apply for funding based on the act’s criteria. 

How did the process work and what nonprofits received funding? 

During the city’s presentation on Tuesday, officials said nonprofits eligible for the funds included 501(c)3 nonprofits within the city limits that supported senior services as allowed under ARPA rules. Each of the applications from the nonprofits detailed specific plans for use of the money if they received it from the city. The eligible use of funds, under the ARPA for the target group of senior support, included: 

  • Mitigating and preventing COVID-19
  • Improving ventilation systems; 
  • Providing behavioral health care/mental health services and outreach; 
  • Preventing and responding to violence including scams;
  • Re-entering the workforce; 
  • Providing food assistance and food security; 
  • Providing counseling and legal aid to prevent homelessness or eviction; 
  • Providing financial services for under- and unbanked; 
  • Creating digital access and literacy; 
  • Accessing and applying for public benefits and/or services; 
  • Improving access to health and social services; 
  • Integrating health services into senior services locations; 
  • Addressing health disparities and improving health outcomes. 

After the applications were submitted to the city, officials with the city said on Tuesday that the applications were then independently evaluated by a review committee. Laura Storrs, the chief financial officer for the city of Amarillo and an assistant city manager, said the applications were mainly scored by funding need, the proposed project’s impact on the community, the timeframe for the project to be completed along with project feasibility. 

Out of eight nonprofit organizations that applied for ARPA funding, four nonprofits received funding, while three were not recommended for an award. Officials also said that one application did not meet the city’s submittal requirements. The projects that the city awarded are: 

  • Catholic Charities
    • $175,000
    • For a project aimed at expanding food pantry services to those who are in the low-income to very low-income bracket for ages 50 and older.
  • Family Care Foundation
    • $100,000
    • For a project aimed at providing and expanding free dental services for qualifying senior citizens. 
  • United Way of Amarillo and Canyon
    • $143,600
    • For a project aimed at providing expanded financial assistance for qualifying senior citizens.
  • Wesley Community Center
    • $181,400
    • For a project aimed at expanding services and addressing accessibility issues at the south campus of the Wesley Community Center. 

Amarillo City Council Member Freda Powell stressed to the public during this meeting that through this bidding process, the city wanted to cover as many senior citizens-related projects as possible with the funding, making the decision to award four nonprofits that met the criteria. 

Storrs said that while the Amarillo City Council could have given a little bit of money to each organization that applied for the funding, the challenge was that some of the projects could not be completed with partial funding. Storrs said the city council is in favor of conducting as fair of a process as possible. 

“So, as staff recommended it, was to go ahead and fully fund the first several projects as far as we could and then the last one… city council did partial funding to. There were multiple components to their project approval,” Storrs said. “There are lots of really good nonprofits here in our community that serve senior citizens. There are a lot of great things going on. That’s another reason why the city of Amarillo has very limited senior citizen services within our organization because we’ve got great nonprofits out there doing wonderful things in the community.” 

How does this money impact the United Way of Amarillo and Canyon? 

Kiley Murray, the chief executive officer of the United Way of Amarillo and Canyon, said that their funding from this grant will fall into the organization’s existing specific aid program. Through this program, the nonprofit assigns applicants to a case manager who will walk the applicant through what their needs are, issuing the aid, if necessary, after that. 

“What we do is screen our clients and this grant, obviously, is for seniors, so it’s over 50,” he said. “One of the things that we wrote in our grant was hopefully helping with some of those grandparents that are taking care of kids and so forth. So, what we’re looking to do is provide funding, such as rent, utilities… help out with folks that have those kinds of bills.” 

Murray said these extra funds give the United Way of Amarillo and Canyon another asset to fund a program that is impacting the community already. Murray stressed that the nonprofit is not only focusing this program on seniors but reaching out to that population and giving individuals who need it a hand, making a difference in their lives. 

Through this program, Murray said he believes that the city of Amarillo sees the impact the United Way is making on the senior citizens’ community, along with the other nonprofits that received funding. 

“I think it speaks volumes for the responsibility that we take for our community, in partnership with the other organizations that were awarded the grant as well,” Murray said. “We take it with great honor that we’re trusted to take these funds and then put it right back out the door to the community that needs it. I think we’re extremely well qualified to do that (as is) the other organizations that were awarded the grants. It’s a great vote of confidence that we have from the city.” 

Why did the Amarillo Senior Citizens Association not receive funding? 

One of the nonprofits that applied for funding from the city of Amarillo and did not receive any was the Amarillo Senior Citizens Association. This comes after the association, or ASCA, has recently undergone an upheaval, bringing a new board together after officials began the process of the association’s closure back in July. 

Tom Scherlen, the new president of ASCA’s board, said the association applied for the entire $600,000 available through the grant, which would have gone towards opening the building the association purchased from Potter County in December 2020. 

“Amarillo Senior Citizens, everything we have done has basically been done on our own,” he said. “We were just asking for some help from the city to help us get it off the ground. We were really hoping to get that money so we can open the doors quicker and get this thing going faster.” 

ASCA’s ongoing situation was brought up during Tuesday’s meeting of the Amarillo City Council by Amarillo City Council Member Cole Stanley. Stanley said the association reached out to him and has been in contact with the city about funding. 

“They are an association, not the only one, but I believe they may be our longest-running senior association here in town. Of course, they’ve got a new home and they’ve got a project that they’re interested in completing,” Stanley said during the meeting. “I know they’ve been here, they’ve worked hard. I would like to see them share in this, long term. I think it’s healthy for our community for our seniors to have a home. That would provide a good future home for them.” 

Stanley proposed that the council redistribute some of the ARPA funds to include ASCA. However, Powell said that four nonprofits “worked extremely hard” to meet the city’s and the federal government’s criteria for these funds and that the staff’s recommendation should stand. 

“Nothing against the Amarillo Senior Citizens Association at all,” Powell said. “If we’re not going to follow the process and honor these organizations that have worked hard, there’s no need of having a process in place to do that.” 

Storrs said that out of the eight nonprofits, ASCA was ranked in sixth place, stating that the questions the committee had surrounding the organization was on the overall success of the association’s project being completed and being completed on time, per the schedule that the ARPA criteria outlines. 

Even without funds from the city, Scherlen said the organization will continue to raise funds to open its building, searching across the city and the region for grant funds and asking for help to revive the association and ultimately overcome the association’s “bad reputation.” 

“We’ve had peaks and we’ve had a lot of valleys and been out of those valleys,” Scherlen said.  “But what would I say to any prospective member, any old member: have you ever been to a restaurant or anything (where they) said under new management? That’s what we are. We’re under new management, come and give it a try. Let’s see what we can do. We need your ideas to make it better.”

What’s next for the nonprofits that received funding? 

Officials with the city said that ARPA funding, in this case, is required to be obligated by the nonprofits that received the funds no later than June 30, 2024. The funds are required to be expanded by Dec. 31, 2026. Officials also stressed that the city distributed the funds on a “reimbursement basis.” 

Storrs said the city of Amarillo has strict reporting requirements from the federal government regarding the ARPA funds, requiring the city to submit quarterly reports back to the federal government. 

“We will work with these community partners, now that we’re passing these grant funds through,” Storrs said, “to ensure that what they are submitting back to us does meet the criteria outlined in ARPA (and) that it’s meeting the timelines outlined through ARPA.”