DC nonprofit in ‘disbelief’ after city misses grant deadline, losing $3.75M

Three nonprofits that tutor and teach D.C. kids how to read lost $3.75 million dollars in grant funding because the city missed a federal deadline. Two people have lost their jobs over what the mayor calls both a technical and human error.

In 19 D.C. schools, Reading Partners serves nearly 1,000 kids a week. So when its executive director, Karen Gardner, learned the city missed a federal deadline allocating her nonprofit more than $560,000 in AmeriCorps funds and staffing, she was in shock.

“My initial reaction was just complete disbelief that it couldn’t be possible that we would not have this completely essential, not just source of funding, but also source of talent that we need in order to operate reading centers for our students,” Gardner told WTOP.

Mayor Muriel Bowser points the finger at Serve DC which she says should have reported any technical issues before missing the Corporation for National and Community Service deadline, a body funded by Congress, which in turn, funds AmeriCorps. The Literacy Lab and City Year D.C. are also affected by the loss in grants.

“Any technical error should have been raised so that we could deal with it appropriately before the deadline expired,” Bowser said. She confirmed two employees at Serve D.C. lost their job over the error.

Reading Partners, a national nonprofit, has worked with AmeriCorps since it’s arrival in Washington in 2010, Gardner said.

“It’s not just about the grant itself … This funding is dollars as well as dollars to pay for talent. if we were to replace AmeriCorps members with staff, it would be a significant increase in our budget to $1 million in losses,” Gardner said.

AmeriCorps members receive a stipend for their work. Between the three nonprofits dependent upon the more than $3 million in federal grants, Gardner said the loss is significant.

“We’re talking about thousands of children who are impacted; dozens of schools. And because of this impact, I have a deep belief that the mayor’s office will work to make this right. They have a serious responsibility to make this right,” Gardner said.

If the city can’t re-secure funding, the mayor said she’ll look to the city’s budget.

“If it is necessary to keep them whole,” Bowser said when asked about what she’ll do if federal funding is not reallocated.

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is asking CNCS to take into account that Serve D.C. employees reached out before the deadline, communicating they were having technical difficulties with the application. Below is the letter the delegate wrote asking for the reconsideration of D.C.’s late submission.

Read the letter. (PDF)

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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