Each year, Cobb County distributes millions of dollars from the federal government to help low and moderate income residents.
The funds are part of the Community Development Block Grant Program, which was started in 1974 by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
According to the HUD website, the program “works to ensure decent affordable housing, to provide services to the most vulnerable in our communities, and to create jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses.”
Kimberly Roberts, managing director of Cobb’s CDBG Program Office, said the grants go to nonprofits and other local governments to provide a myriad of services, such as health care, housing or rental assistance, after school programs and more.
Local nonprofits that have received funding through the program over the last three years include the Davis Direction Foundation, which works to combat heroin addiction and used grant money to buy a van; the local Boys & Girls Club, which used grant funds to pay for renovations to its facilities; and Zion Baptist Church of Marietta, which paid for counseling services from its grant.
The local Girls, Inc. affiliate has received thousands of dollars over the years from the CDBG program, Jennifer Walker the organization’s director of finance said.
Girls, Inc. is a nonprofit with a Marietta affiliate that aims to inspire girls through mentorships, hands-on programming and more, said Walker.
“Without CDBG, this building probably wouldn’t be standing,” she said. “They have been a phenomenal supporter for Girls, Inc., and they haven’t only impacted the girls we serve, they’ve impacted the staff and their families and the community.”
Over several years, Walker said, the CDBG grants has allowed the organization to install HVAC in its gymnasium, add new security measures, restructure its parking lot, refurbish its playground and more.
“Without the CDBG funds, we couldn’t have done what we’ve done to this building,” she said.
HOW THE PROGRAM WORKS
Total funding levels for the CDBG program are set at the federal level by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Roberts said.
The amount of funding each jurisdiction receives is based on their population and the amount of low to moderate income individuals who live in the area, she said.
The total amount of funding the county has received has declined in each of the last three program years, from about $3.92 million in 2017 to $3.71 million in 2018 and $3.59 million in 2019.
“That is the trend,” Roberts said. “All of the HUD grants have consistently (gotten) small and smaller. … The overall appropriations from Congress is smaller, but as they divvy it up, there (are) also newer grantees that are now eligible to receive funding, which kind of splits the pie even further.”
Roberts said she has been administering this program for 13 years and has seen the amount of funding fluctuate from about $5 million in 2006-07, before the 2008 recession, to about $3.59 million now.
“It is difficult because there are some nonprofits that do some great work, but the competitiveness of the application, it gets tighter and tighter each year because the money shrinks. So it makes it really difficult, and these nonprofits really have to kind of compete at a high level in order to receive funding,” Roberts said.
The county has an open annual application process for organizations to ask for grant funding. Applications are accepted from Feb. 1 to the first week of April every year.
The county government does multiple workshops across the county to help spread the word to nonprofits that these grant funds are available and to help them navigate the application process, Roberts said.
A committee at the county reviews all applications, does site visits and rates and scores each application. The committee is made up of staff from the county’s CDBG Program office, county officials, representatives from nonprofits who have not applied or are not eligible for the grants and some city officials from around the county, Roberts said.
Once the grant determinations are made, the preliminary list is presented to the Cobb Board of Commissioners in the summer, typically in June or July, Roberts said. August is typically taken up by a mandatory 30-day public comment period, to be followed by Board of Commissioner approval in October to early November, she said.
The number of applications vary from year to year, Roberts said, but the committee could receive between 50 to 70 applications to approve annually.
“The ask is always greater than the allocation,” Roberts said.
The grants are reimbursements, Roberts said, so a nonprofit has to have paid for any services or facilities improvements themselves before coming to the county to ask for grant funds with documentation that proves the expenses.
“So if you’re asking for $1 million, you’re expected to expend $1 million before you can be reimbursed for $1 million. That’s what makes it difficult,” she said.
Both Smyrna and Marietta are large enough that they get their own CDBG grant allocations, Roberts said. The county supervises Smyrna’s program and used to do the same for Marietta, but in 2018, Marietta broke off to manage its grant program itself.
“The other cities, like Acworth, Powder Springs, Kennesaw and Austell, they are not big enough to receive their own allocation from HUD, and so the county divvies up the grant funding by their population,” Roberts said.