Phoenix Councilmembers: COVID-19 Money Talk 'Concerning' And 'Offensive'

Published: Monday, May 18, 2020 - 5:05am
Updated: Monday, May 18, 2020 - 3:25pm

Phoenix plans to allocate $5 million in federal coronavirus funding for food assistance. The money will be split among small grassroots groups and large nonprofits, but some have concerns about who’s watching how the money is spent.  

The $5 million seems small compared to the $293 million Phoenix has received. But it’s just the latest in a string of funding decisions that make Councilman Jim Waring uncomfortable. 

“As other members have rightfully said, you gotta get that money out on the street because the crisis is happening right now so there’s also a time factor ... RFPs (requests for proposals) that would normally be a year or whatever, we’re just talking about doing in a month, so that’s concerning,” he said during Thursday’s council meeting.

Staff presented a breakdown of the $5 million plan, which included:

  • $2 million for St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance
  • $500,000 for Association of Arizona Food Banks/Arizona Food Bank Network
  • $365,000 for St. Vincent de Paul
  • $135,000 for Salvation Army, 
  • $300,000 for the city
  • $1.7 million for grants ranging in size from $25,000 to $500,000 to support existing organizations serving residents in food deserts, low income areas, and communities of color. 

Councilman Sal DiCiccio questioned how the city would monitor the $1.7 million in grants, “I love the idea of providing [to] the smaller groups ... I get it, it’s just that, it’s the oversight to make sure it’s being done a specific way that always concerns me on these types of things.”

Waring, who previously voted against a different relief funding plan said, "I’m not sure we have enough people to go around to check every dollar because it’s so much money, it’s so quick, and we’re partnering with people that maybe perhaps we’re not used to partnering with, I don’t know.” 

“This is troubling and offensive,” said Councilmember Carlos Garcia. “I think the people’s hunger supersedes the comfort of a couple of council people on this council. I think we trust organizations and, being out there and seeing some of the food drives and how they're supporting people, it’s not like we're picking people out of the air, it’s folks that are trusted.”

The federal government has made it clear that local and state governments can only use relief funds to cover costs directly linked to coronavirus. City Manager Ed Zuercher told the council last week that city attorneys will ensure requirements are written into contracts with groups that accept money.  Phoenix also plans to hire more people to monitor those contracts in real time and the city audit department will review a ‘robust amount’ of coronavirus relief funds.

Before the council approved the plan 7-2, representatives from St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance and Arizona Food Network expressed appreciation and said the funding would help them support hundreds of smaller nonprofits. 

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