Grant for local non-profit up in the air as state fund is questioned

Published 10:20 am Thursday, October 3, 2019

A state grant promised to a local non-profit remains in limbo as state legislators continue to question a $4 million state fund in the budget for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

News that the TDECD fund is being scrutinized surfaced earlier this week in a story by the Tennessean. The paper reported that various state legislators became concerned after State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, made a surprise announcement to a crowd gathered for the recent Isaiah 117 House ribbon cutting in Washington County, that he had secured a $75,000 grant for the organization.

That grant money is part of a $4 million TDECD fund that State Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and several other state legislators are trying to learn more about. Lundberg and others are calling for transparency and asking for details with regards to the fund, what projects are included, how they are allocated, selected and awarded.

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“Obviously I support Isaiah 117 Houses, whether they be in Carter, Greene, Washington or Sullivan counties,” Lundberg told the Star. “It is an amazing program with an amazing mission and it will change lives forever. It is a valuable and worthwhile project.

“We put $100,000 in the state budget for Isaiah 117 House and we were thrilled when the Governor came and presented that in Greeneville this summer.

“But when Rep. Hill announced the $75,000 grant, I had to ask the question ‘Where has that money come from?’ Still, we have no satisfactory answer. I have a responsibility to make certain that money is actually appropriated.”

He also said that the state’s budget, which was approved in late April, had no mention of the grant.

“This story is not about Isaiah 117 House,” Lundberg added. “It’s about a representative saying that he has a $75,000 state grant that no one else knows about.”

Although the grant Hill promised Isaiah 117 House is yet to be approved, it appears he remains committed to obtaining the funding for the organization. Hill told the Johnson City Press earlier this week the funding “has not been officially approved by the department’s commissioner, but it is something that has been in the works for some time now. I’m actually continuing to have conversations to finalize it, finish it up hopefully here soon.”

He also points out that the $4 million fund received unanimous approval from the state’s House and Senate, and quoted the state appropriations bill, explaining the money is set aside for “the sole purpose of making rural and community grants for capital expenditures, repairs, maintenance or operation to local governments or non-profit, public safety, library, community or recreational service entities.”

Hill told the Press that the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration, Stuart McWhorter, will have the final say on who will receive the grants, and that representatives can only suggest and recommend how and where the money is to be spent.

In the meantime, Ronda Paulson, founder and director of Isaiah 117 House, says she appreciates all of the support the organization receives, “whether it comes in the form of a grant, community giving, or a lemonade stand.”

“We are overwhelmed with the support we’ve received over these last few years from our community,” Paulson said. “We recently hosted a groundbreaking in Sullivan County, a ribbon-cutting in Washington County, and another groundbreaking in Greeneville this past summer.

“These locations are open and are opening soon to serve the children in our communities who are awaiting foster care placements. Seeing our community stand behind us with their resources, support and commitment is why our locations are becoming a reality.”

Local support, “from lemonade stands, to personal and corporate gifts, grants, and T-shirt sales,” has always been and continues to be the driving force behind Isaiah 117 House successes, Paulson says.

“What stands true is that our community believes that these kids deserve better,” she added. “Our focus and only focus is our mission: To reduce trauma for children entering the foster care system, to come along side and help DCS/CPS and to ease transition for future foster placements.”