Feds Throw Agency A Lifeline

092809_TM_0006.jpgWhen she heard the news that Empower New Haven had won a $1 million grant, “I jumped three feet in the air,” said Althea Richardson.

Just two days after telling an aldermanic panel that the future of her anti-poverty agency was in danger, CEO and President Althea Richardson (pictured) got word that Empower New Haven was chosen to receive a competitive federal stimulus grant.

The grant, awarded on Friday, comes at a crucial moment. Empower New Haven reaches a deadline at the end of this year, when the ten-year federal program that created the agency runs out. The ENH board faces a choice of either dissolving the organization or reorganizing and continuing its anti-poverty work in New Haven.

While the $1 million grant does not guarantee that ENH’s Board of Directors will vote to persevere beyond the end of this year, it gives board members one million reasons to do so.

“It’s huge for us,” said Richardson, discussing the importance of the bill at ENH’s downtown offices on Monday.

The grant will bring $1 million of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to ENH by way of the Department of Health and Human Services. ENH will use the money to assist local non-profits that work in three areas: job training, asset building, and public income assistance. ENH will be providing grants directly to qualifying local agencies and working with them on strategic planning and development.

The grant will be matched locally by $100,000 from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and $50,000 from the Community Foundation For Greater New Haven. Local dollars will stretch two years of federal funding into three years of programming, Richardson said.

The money comes “at a critical juncture for the city,” Richardson said. City not-for-profits are struggling and need all the help they can get, she explained. “We rely on non-profits to really advance our mission.”

The federal grant will provide “huge leverage for the board” as ENH directors make a decision on whether or not to continue past December, Richardson said.

So does the million-dollar grant mean that ENH will be around for three more years?

“I can’t say for sure,” Richardson said. “I’m just one of 18 votes on the board.”

The ENH board will make its decision in November. In the meantime, Richardson is waiting to hear about three more grants that ENH has applied for.

Expanding The Zone

A bill pending in Congress could help ENH to expand its work to more areas of the city. The legislation — H.R. 1677 in the House and S. 1222 in the Senate — would extend the the Empowerment Zone program for five more years.

Ten census tracts and 50,000 people in New Haven are currently located in the local Empowerment Zone in which ENH works. Businesses in the zone are entitled to certain tax incentives, which would be continued if the current bill passes. “The plus is that at least our business owners in the empowerment zone’s benefits could get extended,” Richardson said.

The bill would also allow New Haven to expand the boundaries of the local Empowerment Zone, potentially extending tax incentives to even more city businesses. Richardson said that it would be a good idea for the city’s Chamber of Commerce to speak to New Haven’s congressional delegation and encourage them to work to pass the bill. “Definitely,” she said. “No question.”

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posted by: Charlie Pillsbury on September 29, 2009  8:10pm

Althea:  Congratulations!

posted by: angeloreyes on September 29, 2009  11:00pm