DuPage County has committed $10.6 million in federal pandemic assistance to establish a nonprofit grant program that will be operated by a Downers Grove-based foundation and will focus on addressing food insecurity and housing, mental health and substance abuse issues.
County board members approved an agreement with the DuPage Foundation to expand the grantmaking initiative with an influx of funds provided by the American Rescue Plan.
A planning committee made up of county and foundation officials will decide how to distribute the money, but they are looking to go beyond emergency measures.
“The county and the foundation want to be strategic in using these funds rather than just deploying them,” said Barb Szczepaniak, the foundation’s vice president of programs.
In pre-pandemic years, the county’s annual budget typically provided about $1 million for the Human Services Grant Fund, a pool of money split among dozens of food pantries, homeless shelters, centers counseling and other non-profit organizations.
“We knew we could do more for people if we could leverage the giving power of community partners,” County Council Chairman Dan Cronin said in a statement. “We also knew that while one-year grants helped nonprofits, larger, multi-year grants could create measurable and lasting change.”
The county will leverage the expertise of the DuPage Foundation to make grants available to local social service providers supporting residents most severely affected by the pandemic.
“Our hope is that nonprofits will work with DuPage residents to stabilize their crisis situations and then work toward longer-term goals,” Cronin said. “The vision of this approach is to provide a stable foundation for developing a public/private partnership that supports this effort without relying on an annual allocation from the county budget.”
The county will return the funds to the foundation in a lump sum. The foundation will award $10 million in grants to nonprofits over five years, while $600,000 of the total amount it receives from the county will pay for program administration costs. The foundation will also collect information from each grant recipient for a county expense report on projects funded by the U.S. bailout.
“It’s beyond what we already do, so we’ll need to add staff over the next five years for that,” Szczepaniak said.
Julie Renehan, Member of the County Council, will be part of the group defining the parameters of the grant funding. As an example, the grants could help organizations hire staff to increase the availability of counseling services or extend the hours of a food pantry, Renehan said.
“As we develop the application process and then review applications, we look to nonprofits to provide specific ideas on how best to address these issues, as their experiences and perspectives are valuable” said Renehan, chair of the county health and social services committee. .
There will likely be some sort of cap on individual grants.
“But as we seek to make a meaningful impact with these grants, the cap will be higher than programs we’ve funded in the past,” said Mary Keating, director of the county’s community services department.
Keating said officials expect the grant program to launch in the spring.
DuPage County received $179,266,585 under the U.S. Bailout Relief Program. The county received $89.6 million, the first of two equal installments, in May 2021. The U.S. bailout money is to be spent by the end of 2026.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Szczepaniak said, “and we’re trying to make the most of it.”